Stages of infant development and what each means for parents

There is a lot of information available about the different stages of an infant’s development. Many of us know what to watch for, what to expect, and some of us may consult reference guides, experts, doctors, or websites to learn about what is happening with our baby and what “to do.” With the emphasis being so heavily on the baby’s development and their growth, however, it can sometimes be easy to remember that each stage means something different for parents as well.

There are behaviors, actions, and shifts that parents can make to encourage and support each stage of development in a baby’s first year. This approach is a great way to bond with your baby and experience things together on an even deeper level. Here are some things to keep in mind and prepare for as your baby experiences their first year of life.

Newborn to 3 months

What is happening for your baby’s development: 

  • In these precious initial months, your baby is learning to recognize who is around them and who is caring for them.
  • This recognition comes with learning how to communicate with these same people about their needs.
  • Your baby is starting to understand and figure out how to use their body to make things happen.
  • Your baby is starting to bond with their caregivers.
  • If it seems like your baby is crying a lot that’s because it is. In general, a baby’s crying peaks at six weeks and then begins to decline.
  • Sleep is typically happening in two/three-hour chunks.
  • During this time your baby will begin to get into a regular pattern of eating.

How to support your little one during this stage of development:

  • This stage takes a lot of holding and cuddling your baby, which is why maternity leave is so important. One of the best things you can do is set yourself up to be able to spend a lot of time with your infant and just simply be there for them.
  • Practice patience. If you don’t know the stress that a crying baby can invoke, get ready. While it can be tiring and provoke some anxiety, it is important to prepare yourself for this and to know that the most soothing thing you can do for your baby is to be there.
  • Prepare to have regular support for YOU. Even during your maternity leave it is important to ask a friend or family member to be there regularly, even just to take a turn holding the baby (not to mention giving you a chance for a long, hot shower!). If you plan to use a nanny when you go back to work, ease them in by scheduling a couple of mini-shifts a week for a month or two. One of the most important things you can learn during this time is to ask for help. 

Resources to help: 

Top 10 Sensory Activities for Your 3-Month Old

Baby Play: How to Play With 0-3 Month Old

3-5 months

What is happening for your baby’s development: 

  • Your baby will begin to enjoy lying on their tummy, pushing itself onto their arms, and holding their head up.
  • Those arms and legs will start to get a LOT of movement when the baby is excited.
  • Your baby will have come to recognize its parent’s voices and will show you this by moving their head when they hear you. You may notice that they start to cry when they hear you in order to be held by you.
  • A baby will learn how to grab objects during this time.
  • Eye contact ramps up during this stage of development.
  • By the end of their fifth month, your baby will likely roll from their tummy to their back.
  • Laughter and happy sounds start to become more common by the end of this stage.

How to support your little one during this stage of development:

  • Communicate more. Copy their sounds, talk to them, sing to them. Not only do these actions release feel-good chemicals in your baby, but they also help you to bond and helps them develop their communication skills.
  • Touch your baby in new ways. Kiss, hug, tickle, walk your fingers along their arms and legs. This will increase your bond and naturally encourage your baby to touch the parts of their body that you touch, encouraging a range of developmental senses and impulses.
  • Keep a routine. This is a great time to help your baby get used to what to expect and encourage them to become comfortable with the schedule the parents need to keep.
  • Get the house ready for baby movement! Now would be the time to mentally prepare for having your baby creep and crawl and stand up in your home and to make any necessary safety adjustments.
  • Find games to help them experiment with the new control they have found over their body.
  • Give them plenty of tummy time to experience the world at the new angle and continue to develop on to crawling. This is a fundamental activity for a baby during this stage but can be hard for some parents to get used to. Figure out what works for you and let them signal to you what they need or when they are done.

Resources to help: 

Tummy Time: When to Start and What You Must Know

Mayo Clinic: How Much Tummy Time Does Your Baby Need?

6-8 months  

What is happening for your baby’s development: 

  • Your baby will be taking what they learned about controlling their body and building on that a lot during this stage.
  • Communication skills! Your baby will actively be working to communicate with those around them.
  • The time is approaching: your baby will likely start to sleep through the night during this time.
  • Your baby will start to be able to sit up.

How to support your little one:

  • Stay consistent with routines (you’ll thank yourself later).
  • Take the communication to another level. Look your baby in the eye when you speak to them, speak to them often, be facially expressive. Tell them what you are doing when you are doing it. Anything you can do to communicate with your baby right now will go a long way in their upcoming stages of development.
  • When it appears that your baby is ready to sit up, create a safe place for them to do so. Prop them up so that they can feel their “sitting up” muscles. Allow them enough movement so that they can play with making little adjustments and how that feels.
  • Provide them with “unstructured” time to move freely and “entertain themselves.” Let them discover the world a little bit at a time on their own.

Resources to help: 

10 Developmental Activities for a 6-Month-Old Baby

Helping Your 6-Month-Old Thrive

10 Fun and Interesting Activities for Your 8-Month-Old

9-12 months 

What is happening for your baby’s development: 

  • At this stage of your baby’s development, they will understand far more words than they can say.
  • Mobility! Each day will bring more and more movement for your baby.
  • Emotional expression kicks into high gear. Along with the ability to move will come a new range of expression for your baby.
  • Repetition. Your baby will love to do things over and over (and over) again.
  • The understanding that things exist that they can’t see in front of them will set in.

How to support your little one: 

  • Say goodbye and greet your baby as you come and go. This will build trust, strengthen your bond, and help them communicate.
  • Provide plenty of space for them to move around. Your baby will be so excited to use their newfound ability to crawl, stand up, and even move between large pieces of furniture. Make sure they have plenty of room to explore safely.
  • Stay patient as your baby learns to express their needs. Love them up and help them to know that they are doing fine.
  • Time to childproof again! If they haven’t started to walk by the end of this stage, it’s right around the corner. It’s time to evaluate your space again and see what needs to be closed off, covered up, reinforced, put up high, padded, or put away.

Resources to help: 

Encourage Baby’s Cognitive Development: 9-12 Months

25 Fun Indoor Activities for Your 10-12 Month Old Baby

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