safe motherhood

Your new baby

What your baby can do

It may seem as if babies can do little more than feed, sleep, cry and fill their nappies, but actually they are born with many skills.

Some of these are reflexes. You shine a light in your baby's eyes and he or she blinks; you stroke their cheek and they will turn towards your finger, opening their mouth, ready to feed. If you hold them under their arms, in an upright position, they will make a walking movement with their legs. When you put your finger in your baby's hand, they will grasp it tightly. If something startles them, they will shoot out their arms and legs and then draw them in again.

These involuntary responses to stimulation are survival mechanisms, inherited from our early ancestors. Some of the reflexes your baby has, such as blinking (and breathing), they will always have.

Others, like stepping and the startle reflex, give way to activities they will learn, for example, walking. Others still, like sucking and tracking an object with their eyes, will, through practice, develop into sophisticated and adaptable skills.

Newborn babies look, listen and learn. From just a few hours after their birth, your baby can imitate facial expressions. If you poke your tongue out, or raise your eyebrows up and down slowly and deliberately, he or she will, unless they are very sleepy, copy you. This is the first step towards learning to communicate. Your baby is also able to produce a wide range of facial expressions of their own. They will know your voice and, when they hear it, wriggle in their cot, turning their head to find you.

At the end of the first six weeks you are likely to find that your baby has learnt the skills that parents find the most magical and you'll have that treasured of experiences - the very first smile!