safe motherhood

How your baby develops


Communication skills are there from birth. A newborn baby can see, hear, smell, suck, touch, feel, look, listen and cry. From a few hours old, they will turn towards their mother's voice when they hear it, recognising it from the womb.

From the first few weeks, babies have wordless conversations. As you talk, they will wait and listen and, in the silence that follows, their whole body will become more active. In their own way, they are answering you.

At four to five months, playful sounds appear in response to your voice: cooing, gurgling, laughing, chuckling, and squealing. Your baby will coo when you talk to her, and will talk to themselves when alone. They will be excited by their ability to make a noise.

At this age most sounds are open vowels, such as, 'aaah' and 'oooh'. The first consonants: 'K', 'P', 'B' and 'M', come later. By four to five months your baby will cry out loudly to express a need. By six months many babies are babbling. This involves making regular, repeated sounds, for example: 'gegegegeg', and 'mamamam', which he or she will play around with. This is a practice run for the sound-producing mechanisms that they will need for later speech.

Your baby will also love to hear you sing nursery rhymes - especially those that involve physical play, such as: 'This is the way the farmer rides' (bouncing them on your knee), or games of 'peek-a-boo' - hiding your eyes for a moment and making them laugh. "Now he is six months, Leigh loves it when I sing 'If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands'. I think he is soothed by the repetition and stimulated by the hand actions, which always make him chuckle." First-time mother, Roberta.

How your baby feels

From three months your baby's social nature becomes apparent as they begin to smile more broadly at people they know. It is clear that babies get a feel for the difference between a mother and father (or anyone else caring for them), from a surprisingly early period. This ability to recognise differences will get stronger as their memory improves.

Researchers have studied the development of recognition memory by showing a baby something that they can't possibly have seen before. After a delay, the baby is given a choice between looking at the object again or something completely different. If one of the options is to look at the mother, a baby will always prefer this. However, if the mother is not there, and the choice is between something old and something new, most babies will want to look at something new. The baby is therefore aware of, and keen to take in, new stimulus.

Whereas newborn babies have to stare at a new visual stimulus for many seconds, or even minutes, to 'store' it, five-month-old babies can store it in just a few seconds, which they can then remember for up to two weeks.

As babies grow, their ability to recognise. They will start to distinguish different members of the family: brothers, sisters, grandparents, even the family pet! At the same time they will start to be wary of unfamiliar faces, although 'stranger anxiety' doesn't reach a peak until about 12 months.

At three months we can begin to see a wider range of feelings and responses in babies, including pleasure, fear, excitement, contentment and unhappiness. Babies also begin to recognise the emotion in a speaker's voice, reacting differently to an angry or a pleasant voice.

By six months babies are awake for much longer periods than before. They show great interest in their surroundings and will laugh, express excitement and delight at positive attention, and will also be able to show strong likes and dislikes.

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