New parents are constantly searching for infant development “norms,” so they know when to yell, “Help!” Yet most are extremely busy and don’t have the time to enroll in classes. So, here are some “CliffsNotes” on typical milestones in a child’s first six months, according to the late researcher Dr. Burton L. White, founder of the Harvard Preschool Project.
Birth to 6 weeks
- Nearsighted. Sees objects/people clearly eight to 10 inches from eyes. A newborn needs to be held so he or she can see mom’s face.
- Eyes cross. Eyes may temporarily cross because of immature muscles, but should stop by the sixth week.
- Frequent hiccups. Many fetuses and newborns have occasional hiccups, which vanish as the diaphragm matures.
- Sticks out tongue. This is reason you shouldn’t feed cereal too early, as newborns cannot swallow solids.
- Voices vs. sounds. Baby knows the difference. Newborns prefer mom’s voice above any other woman.
- Cries. This is the primary communication of discomfort. Respond quickly and consistently to signs of distress in your baby; try to find out what’s wrong and do your best to alleviate it.
- Fragile neck. Baby can’t hold up or control the head. Newborns need constant head and neck support until the muscles are strong enough.
- Lacks awareness. Baby doesn’t realize he’s separate from mom. He also has no consciousness or coordination of his body parts; abrupt, uncoordinated movements mean he can’t be left alone on a changing table.
- Body temperature. Undeveloped sweat glands mean baby can’t perspire to cool down if overdressed – or shiver to keep warm if underdressed.
- Sensitive to light. Baby’s accustomed to a dim environment, so protect the newborn’s eyes from strong overhead lights and sunshine.
- Vulnerable hearing. Baby’s ears can be injured by prolonged exposure to loud sounds. Avoid taking newborns to loud sporting events or concerts, which will make them uncomfortable and possibly damage their hearing.
- Burps. Breastfed newborns may not, since less air is taken in at the breast than the bottle.
- Over stimulated. Babies have a fragile neurological system, so avoid too many errands or activities in a day or the baby might scream through the evening and have difficulty sleeping.
- Sleep. Baby sleeps 18 hours. Toward the sixth week, there’ll be days of more wakefulness.
- Grunts. Language development begins with uttering simple vowel sounds, which Dr. White said emphasizes the need to talk to a newborn.
- Smiles. This behavior becomes purposeful or responsive around week six.
6 weeks to 3 1/2 months
- Not spoiled. Babies aren’t able to manipulate people; they cry when they have a legitimate need, and stop when it’s met. “Babies are designed to be handled, caressed and loved,” Dr. White said.
- Stares. Baby is happy, quietly observing others. This normal, contented gaze means he’s absorbing information.
- Controls head. Baby turns her head at a familiar voice or sound. Stronger muscles mean the neck supports the head.
- Babbles. Baby makes noises with saliva and imitates sounds by vocalizing, cooing to show pleasure, and even chuckling.
- Legs kick outward. With help, babies should be able to support their weight on their legs; this ultimately builds strength for standing and walking.
- Mouths everything. Baby uses oral exploration to learn about his world.
3 1/2 to 6 months
- Ticklish. This is part of the rapid growing tendency toward enjoyment, laughter and happiness with adult interaction.
- Rolls. Infant can self-propel from side-to-side.
- Control of hands. Baby may explore her clothes or her fingers. Hand games, such as patty-cake, will help develop coordination.
- Grabs everything. Baby takes object held near his hand and may even work to reach for a toy or something of interest.
- Takes the spoon. Baby wants to self-feed. In this act of emerging independence, babies also might pick up and eat dry cereal.
- Sits. By 6 months, baby should be able to sit without support.
This post was originally published in November 2009 and has been updated for 2017.