Tot life: newborn to 3 months

The first three months with your newborn will largely be spent feeding (a lot of feeding!), sleeping and learning who your little baby is.

Just as all adults are different, your little baby has his own personality and a big part of being a parent is learning who your baby is and what needs he or she has.

Photo credit: Eliza Kawamura

Before you enter the world of milestones and achievements, fine and gross motor skills, behavior and frustration, its important to get one thing straight: babies mostly do things according to their own schedule. Milestones are not an exact science, they are a guide. Being obsessed over milestones won’t help your baby reach them any faster! Here we outline what you may expect during the newborn to 3 months phase.

Baby development

Newborns can’t see a lot in terms of color and detail and can only see between about 8 and 12 inches in distance. Their eyes develop a lot in the first year of life, but they can see contrast at birth. A playmat which is black, white and red for example is great for a newborn. However, quite quickly your newborn’s eyes will become more adept at following a moving light and moving together (by about six weeks your baby’s eyes should be tracking together most of the time). Remember that all this looking around is actually work for your baby – the simple act of following a toy with his eyes as you move it left to right a few times will tire out a baby of this age! Although your baby certainly can’t be expected to comprehend the substance of a story yet, it is never too early to start exposing your baby to books. Similarly to choosing toys for a newborn, look for basic board books with high contrast black and white images, shapes and faces. Hold your baby in your lap for a minute or two to look at a book and then move onto something else.

Your baby will hear your voice a lot, as you talk to him while changing his diaper or giving him a bath, as you point things out in the stroller, in the background while you feed and talk to your partner. So it isn’t really surprising that within a few weeks your baby will respond to the sound of your voice by smiling (after about six weeks). Many parents think that newborns “need quiet,” but actually the womb is a pretty noisy place! Your baby is used to listening to the gurgling sounds of your digestion and the soothing bump bump of your heartbeat. If your baby seems unsettled, some parents find that background noise can be soothing to a newborn – the sounds of the dishwasher, washing machine, the vacuum cleaner or even static from the radio have been known to soothe babies (or you can go high-tech and buy a noise machine!)

Your baby doesn’t understand the words you are saying just yet, but he will learn quickly to understand your tone, facial expressions and body language. Because you and your partner are probably looking after your baby most of the time, he will know that you are a source of food, that you put him to bed when he’s tired, that you respond when he is crying or in distress. (Note, biology has nothing to do with this kind of bonding – babies learn to rely on and trust whomever cares for them regularly). By about eight weeks your baby will start communicating with you – by smiling and trying to get a smile in response! This is a VERY exciting time for parents!! Your baby will also try “talking” to you – these are the sounds we typically associated with little babies, the coos and gahs.

Motor skills
Your newborn has poor neck control and you need to be very careful to always support his neck until he is strong enough to lift his head and support it himself. However, it’s important that you start giving your baby “tummy time” from birth – first just for a minute or two and then build up to greater lengths of time as your baby learns to lift his head and look around.

A warning, some babies hate tummy time, but its still important developmentally so persevere. Also, you must always supervise a newborn during tummy time – newborns cannot always move their heads very well and can easily get caught lying face-down and unable to breathe, especially when they are getting tired. Try a couple of minutes of tummy time on the floor with your baby and when he starts to complain move him onto his back. Tummy time is an excellent opportunity for your baby to feel the floor under his belly, practice kicking those legs and moving those feet, and eventually pushing down on his hands. Tummy time is great formative training for eventually learning to crawl.

Red flags
The following list isn’t exhaustive. If you think something “isn’t right” with your baby don’t ignore it – go see your family physician or pediatrician. The following are signs you should be mindful of at this age:
– your baby doesn’t respond to sounds or bright lights
– your baby doesn’t smile at people or the sound of your voice
– your baby doesn’t follow moving objects with his eyes
– your baby’s head control hasn’t improved
– your baby doesn’t notice his hands, doesn’t grasp and hold objects

Also bear in mind that when your baby is tired his ability to do these things may decrease – a baby who won’t make eye contact with you or whose coordination seems a bit clumsy may be trying to tell you he’s tired. These signs would be a red flag when they are persistent and occur when your baby should be expected to be alert and have the energy to play and communicate.