Child development is the set of motor, cognitive and emotional skills that a child acquires in the first years of life. From the moment a baby is born we see him moving. Movement is undoubtedly natural for babies!
It is also a source of both joy and worry for many fathers, mothers, and carers: what should baby be able to do at this age? How to play and stimulate their evolution? We will help to answer some of these questions with regard to the first 12 months of life. Note: Motor development is gradual and each baby has his or her own rhythm.
What are the milestones of infant development during the first year of life?
The look, the smile, the way he stiffens up, moves and communicates: observing each of these characteristics and achievements, as well as being exciting, is fundamental to understanding baby’s development.
In the first month of life, the development is assessed by pediatricians based on the child’s instinctive reflexes: the capacity to suck, the reflex to close the hand when something is placed in the palm, the reaction to noises (they usually calm down with light noises) and the attraction to shiny objects or points of light.
Little by little, movements cease to be mere reflexes and begin to show intention: the baby makes greater eye contact with people and objects around him, recognizes his caregivers, smiles, giggles to attract attention, stretches out his hand to pick up a toy, discovers (and brings to his mouth) his hands and feet, emits sounds and babbles in an attempt to imitate what he hears. In motor development, three fundamental stages are expected:
- between 2 and 5 months: supporting the head
- between 7 and 10 months: sitting unsupported
- between 12 and 18 months: walking without support
These milestones usually occur at different times in premature babies or babies with other health conditions. For this reason, it is always important to be accompanied and advised by a paediatrician throughout childhood.
How to stimulate baby’s development?
The best way to stimulate a baby’s development is to offer a loving, safe environment with freedom to explore. The loving and attentive support of an adult is already all that he needs.
But the adult often doesn’t know what to do. How do you play with a baby if he doesn’t respond? That’s why we’ve listed some tips and games that help adults understand the stages of baby development and have fun together in this process of discovering and conquering skills. First, five general reminders about stimulation:
- The tips are organized month by month, especially so as not to skip stages. The suggestions for the first month are valid for the following months as well. No need to restrict play!
- Whenever you handle the baby, talk to him, call him by name, explain what you are doing, talk about his movements, name objects, sensations, parts of the body. Try to show off your facial expressions. See how he pays attention to you
- The interest in each of the games varies according to the child’s personality. Introducing new things and stimulating them is great, but it shouldn’t be a source of stress for carers or children. The idea is to be fun for everyone!
- Therefore, watch their reactions carefully so as not to force any activity that the baby is not ready for. This observation is also important for the conversation with the paediatrician to assess whether everything is as expected
- Try to talk to the pediatrician to adjust the development expectation for premature babies. Depending on the level of prematurity, the corrected age must be considered.
Games to stimulate baby month by month
Month 1: You can stimulate sight and eye movement by moving coloured objects sideways about 20 to 30 cm from your baby (this is the maximum distance they can see). With gentle rattles, quiet music, and conversation, you help the baby to understand the world around her. Alternating positions when holding the baby on your lap helps to steady the head: facing the body, on his stomach, facing forward (as if he were a baby seat).
2nd month: In addition to following the tips for the first month, try putting your baby face down for a few minutes a few times a day. This helps to stimulate the neck and arm muscles. This exercise should be done gradually, always accompanied by an adult who can place coloured toys on the sides to stimulate laterality. If the baby cries, stop and try another time.
3rd month: Keep baby on his tummy to play more often, but always keep him together. Place toys within reach so that he can try to pick them up. Offer objects with different textures for him to touch (foam, wood, fabric, rubber, etc.).
4th month: Baby’s neck tends to be firmer and he begins to participate more in play. Try playing grimaces or “where’s that?”, hiding and revealing your own face or a toy with a nappy. Observe their reaction and looks. On safe surfaces, leave attractive objects nearby for him to try to roll over and pick up. Play with his little hand, show your fingers (play with the pinkie, your neighbour; count to 5; pass your hand over his, moving your fingers). Offer safe toys and teething toys, because he will start to take everything into his mouth.
5th month: To encourage baby to sit up, hold him by the arms or armpits and pull gently forward. Do this on a soft, firm surface. In the beginning, leave cushions at his side and, as he gets firmer, he can sit up without support. Leave toys in front of him and increase the distance a little to encourage him to push his trunk forward and exercise balance. Continue talking and singing to baby, narrating the actions. Listening to and imitating baby’s babbles also stimulates communication. Another cool communication game is making faces in front of the mirror. This stimulates baby to imitate and move his facial muscles.
6th month: At six months, baby can sit up with little or no support and is ready to start the introduction of food, which can also be a good moment of play and experimentation with textures and tastes. In addition, it is worth reading by showing the pictures in little books, playing hide-and-seek with a toy, holding the baby by the armpits, reproducing a jumping movement.
7th month: Continue stimulating the senses, introducing textures, tastes, and contact with nature. When playing, encourage him to pass the toy from one hand to the other, and also to give it to someone else. Songs that stimulate clapping and waving can also be stimulated.
8th month: Leave baby on the floor for longer, on a safe surface with attractive toys that are not too far away so that he tries to move around to reach them. Celebrate with him when he manages to reach them.
9th month: Baby can play pass the ball or toy to each other on the floor, play with pots and lids. He is likely to start crawling or crawling. One way to encourage the baby to crawl is to put easy obstacles like a pillow or your legs in the way between him and the object of desire. By trying to overcome, he strengthens his arms and back to support his body as he crawls – remember that crawling is not considered a developmental milestone as some babies may “skip” this stage.
10th month: The movements become more coordinated. You can offer the spoon so that he can try to eat on his own. Songs and musical instruments stimulate rhythm. Playing with natural paints, large crayons and sand stimulates the senses. Get ready to make a mess!
11th month: To stimulate your baby to walk, try to keep her barefoot (or wear a non-slip sock if she is cold) so that she can feel the ground and steady her feet. The best stimulus is to create a safe and free environment, without anxiety. The first unsupported steps are expected up to 18 months. The child can start to lean on furniture, sofas, and beds to stand up and walk around. He is learning to balance and falls are part of the process. Protect corners, stay close, but try to control your fear so as not to transmit insecurity.
12th month: Congratulations, your baby is one year old! He may not walk yet, but he already moves around to get what he wants. He seeks communication through gestures and babbling. Acknowledge and celebrate his efforts by repeating the names of things. Keep talking and playing, providing a loving and safe environment.
What to do in case of developmental delay?
It is very important that every baby is accompanied by the pediatrician in monthly consultations during the first year of life. In addition to checking measurements and weights, these appointments are the time to discuss the child’s perceptions of neurological and motor development.
In cases of possible delays in development – such as firming the muscles and the gaze and signs of interaction – the paediatrician may suggest monitoring by specialists in neuropediatrics, physiotherapy or phonoaudiology. Regardless of whether there is a diagnosis of delay or not, your presence, interaction, trust, and example are the best stimuli the child can have.
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