Baby development: birth to 3 months

Baby development: birth to 3 months

Paediatric occupational therapist Amy Faulkner guides us through a baby’s physical and mental milestones in the first 3 months of their life.

Your baby development: birth to 3 months

The role of a newborn in the first three months is learning how to self-regulate outside the womb. Your role as a parent is to help them do this. By looking at your baby’s behaviours as their language you can learn what your baby is telling you and how they are feeling. For example, if they are happy and content they will have a good colour, their eyes will be bright and focused. Or perhaps if they are overwhelmed they might look away, be red or pale in the face.

Gross motor skills

It is important to offer your baby plenty of opportunity to lie and move down on the floor or on a flat surface. Your baby should be encouraged to move and stretch while lying on a play mat, in their moses basket, or pram. When supervised, your baby can lie on their back, tummy and in a side lying position.

1. Back to sleep, tummy to play

Tummy time is a vital foundation for helping babies to develop strong muscles in their necks, backs, tummies, legs and arms. They learn how to control the co-contraction of the muscles. Tummy time should be started from newborn and practiced a few times daily. The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists have a lovely guide to tummy time.

2. Head Control: approximately three months

At birth, babies will generally have weak neck muscles and will not be able to hold their heads up without support. With a newborn, you will need to fully support your baby’s head whenever you are lifting her. Through tummy time, floor time and being lifted and carried a baby’s strength develops and by three months, she should be able to hold her head up independently when the body is supported.

3. Roll: approximately three months

Babies will usually learn to roll from their tummy to their backs first. They will often master this skill in one direction first then the other. They often discover how to roll by accident while perhaps trying to push out of tummy time position. Rolling from their backs to their tummy is trickier and requires increased motor control.

Babies usually develop this skill by reaching down and exploring their toes. As they do this they may end up rolling onto their side. By six months, babies are usually efficient at rolling such that they may roll tummy to back to tummy again. This is a novel and fun way for a baby to move around .

Hand skills

1-4 months:

Your baby will start to bring their hands to midline, picking at their clothes and putting their hands in their mouths. They can grasp objects (reflex, however they have no true release. Encourage your baby to bat for toys in their play gym. To encourage development of their hand- eye coordination skills and exploratory touch give them light rattles, black and white baby books, mirrors, textured toys to play with.

Social skills

Your baby starts to develop their social from the minute they are born. Their first social interaction might be skin-to-skin contact with their mum or dad. This physical connection using positive touch is the earliest way of your baby developing social relationships.

In the first months of our baby’s life, they will rely on you to read their behaviours and communication cues and interpret their needs. Babies express themselves and use these behaviours to develop bonds with their care givers e.g. eye contact, smiling, crying, vocalising, and touching. Babies can smile from as young as a couple of weeks old.

Face time

Face to face interaction with your baby is very important in developing their social skills. Faces fascinate babies, so there are lots of opportunities to play using your face. As they get older, they will start to pull at your face and feel the different textures of hair, skin, mouths. You can use your face to develop facial expressions. Babies are able to imitate facial expressions from newborn. Sing to your baby and facilitate moving their hands and legs as actions.

Car seats and equipment

Babies should not spend more than 30 minutes in their infant carrier car seat. The car seat brings your baby into a flexed position, which is not a natural position for baby anymore as it once was when they were tucked up in mummy’s womb. Babies need to reach, extend and stretch to explore and learn about their environment.

Some proven risks of prolonged car seat include, increased reflux, risk of blocking off airways and reduced oxygen levels, and overheating. Time spent in the car seat should be limited to car travel only. The availability of equipment, such as seats, swings, jumping gyms etc. often leaves babies at risk of limited opportunity to learn to move independently and may encourage and contribute to musculoskeletal problems such as torticollis, plagiocephaly (flat head).

Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….