Newborn Development Guide: The Most Important Infant Milestones

In this article on newborn development you will get a long list of infant milestones regarding:

  • The physical development of your baby which contains a list of newborn reflexes, insights into expected early sleeping and eating patterns along with information on infant sensory development.

But before we venture on this exciting journey, let me say a few words about how you as a parent might choose to approach baby development.

Remember, Your Child is Unique!

Cute little baby looking to the left. Close-up picture.When we have a baby, it is very natural to want to seek confirmation that our baby is 'normal'. That our baby is growing and developing according to the general guidelines of newborn development.

However, it's also important not to forget that general guidelines are, well, 'general'. They give you an indication of what is considered average.

However, your child does not know or care about average. Your child is his or her own person - one-of-a-kind!

So when seeking information about infant development, it is important to remember that babies develop at different rates.

Your child is unique, so the way he or he grows and changes will also be unique.

The most important tool you have when it comes to determining whether everything is as it should be is your instinct, your gut feeling.

If your baby doesn't 'perform' according to the development guidelines, but your feeling is that everything is as it should be, then everything probably is as it should be.

As a mother I experienced this discrepancy between general development guidelines and my son's own development time and time again.

E.g. the baby development books would say that 'now your baby should be reaching out for stuff!'

Well, for one thing my baby wasn't reaching out when he was 'supposed' to.

However, I knew or felt that my son simply was not interested in reaching out (yet). He would much rather just look and connect through deep eye contact.

So nothing was wrong with my son's development scheme, he was just his own person and didn't fit the 'general' newborn development guidelines.

Remember, no matter how 'authority'-like the books about infant milestones may seem, they don't know your child.

Only you do!

Trust that and trust yourself!

Imagine, the Only Thing You Recognize in This World Is a Voice!

Giving Your Infant Space and Love to Adjust!

Newborn baby having his head measured right after birth.For a moment, let's take a brief look at newborn development from your baby's perspective:

Your infant has been removed from his or her snug, cozy environment of being 'one' with you or his mother, in total unity, and then thrust into a world of separation, overflowing with invasive stimuli.

Your baby is suddenly being bombarded with sound and light, temperature changes, and new faces.

And, if that isn't overwhelming enough, your baby now has to learn how to breathe on his own, eat through his mouth, and sleep in unfamiliar surroundings.

This is probably the biggest change (and trauma) in experience we as humans will ever encounter until the day we leave this earth.

So being born is no small deal at all!

Also as an adult, you have had months to prepare for the arrival of your little one. But your baby had no idea what was coming.

Your baby wasn't given the benefit of infant milestones books, newborn development websites, and baby care classes that told him what to expect.

Your baby doesn't know that he is supposed to be able to his head by four weeks, smile at two months, or walk at a year old.

And really, he couldn't care less about development! :-)

All he knows is that his world has completely changed, the only voice he recognizes is his mother's, and he desperately wants to be snuggled back in the security of the womb where he can be one with you (or his mother again).

Pour in Unconditional Love and Watch Your Baby Explore and Learn!

While a lot of development is innate – your baby has certain built-in reflexes that help him learn and adapt.

However, one of the top most important aspects of successful newborn development, growth and progress depends not on working hard on stimulating your child to develop according to the 'ideals' but on helping your infant feel safe and secure in a very big – and sometimes scary – world.

You see, from the moment your baby is born, he naturally uses his well-tuned senses to learn about his new world.

But in order for your child to actively pursue exploring and learning (and thereby reach what is considered key infant milestones), you baby must feel safe, secure and loved.

He must intuitively feel that "Everything is good and nothing bad will happen to me!"

When your child has developed what in developmental psychology is called secure attachment, he will feel 'free' to explore the world because he intuitively 'knows' that the world is good place and people mean well and can be trusted.

It May not Seem as Much from the Outside, but Your Baby's Brain Is Faster than Ever!

Newborn  sleeping patterns: Sleeping infant in profile, close-up.Most of us are influenced by first impressions, and your baby is no different.

Your baby's earliest experiences of himself and the world lay the foundation upon which future concepts, skills and self image are built.

To you, it may seem that all your infant does is eat, sleep, and cry, but their little brains are actually absorbing an abundance of information that will be used over the next several months to determine physical, cognitive, and social development.

Katy Holland, author of Your Baby From Birth to Six Months, states:

  • "Your baby's development doesn't happen in isolation from the rest of the world; he can only learn and progress by being part of it. Having you, your partner, siblings, friends, and family members there is fundamental to his learning and developing. Not only does he learn by example, he needs acknowledgement, love, and encouragement from the people around him in order to reach his full potential. So, by doing what comes naturally – cuddling him, talking to him, going to him when he cries, and interacting with him – you are giving him a sense of security and confidence that allows him to blossom."

The first month of your baby's life is a time of significant growth and change. Even at this young age, your newborn's development will usually be measured in three major categories:

  1. Physical development
  2. Psychological and cognitive development
  3. Social, emotional development

I will now take you through the most significant infant milestones.

The Physical Development of Your Infant

Reflexes, Sleep and Senses

Your new little bundle of joy enters this world with wrinkly skin, a scrunched up face, and a curled up body.

The reason your baby is all curled up is because he has been in quite confined quarters for several months and is used to having his legs drawn up and his arms tucked into his body.

As your baby adjusts to his new, larger environment, he will gradually stretch and straighten out.

You can expect your newborn to lose between 5-10% of his birth weight almost immediately, but he will likely regain this loss within the first week or two.

On average, he will gain about 1 oz a day, or 2 lbs a month, and will grow about 3.5 centimeters in length by the end of the fourth week.

At first, your infant's movements will be jerky and random, but this activity is important for strengthening muscles and developing the nervous system.

Also, your newborn is equipped with amazing reflexes that allow him to build strength and help him learn to understand his body so his movements can gradually become more intentional and controlled.

In the following section of physical newborn development, you will find a list of 8 infant reflexes.

The infant milestone of the grasping reflex. Baby clenching around finger.8 Newborn Reflexes (Physical Development)

1) The Grasping Reflex

If you touch the palm of your newborn's hand, he will automatically grasp your finger.

Or, if you tickle the soles of his feet and he will curl his toes.

Sleeping infant sucking on hand.2) The Sucking Reflex

Babies love to suck – not only do they find it soothing, but it is necessary for proper feeding.

If you touch your newborn's lips, you will notice this reflex is automatic. In fact, your baby will probably suck on anything that comes near his mouth, including your fingers, a nipple, or even his own hand.

3) The Rooting Reflex

If you brush something gently against your baby's cheek and he will probably turn his head toward the stimulus.

New moms may find this very effective in helping their newborn latch-on when breastfeeding.

4) The Gagging Reflex

While in the womb, your newborn was fed automatically, so eating doesn't necessarily just happen, it is a new skill that must acquired.

At first, your baby may suck too quickly or gulp when he is really hungry.

The gagging reflex protects your baby from choking while he is developing the ability to eat and swallow properly.

5) The Moro Reflex

The Moro reflex is also known as the "startle" reflex, and is a neurological reaction that causes your newborn to throw out his arms and legs with his fingers extended.

After a few seconds, he will draw his arms into his body with his hands clenched into fists.

This reflex is usually brought about by an abrupt temperature change, a loud noise, or a sudden shift in head position.

The Moro reflex will usually disappear around 2 months of age.

6) The Walking Reflex

If you hold your baby upright in a standing position with his feet on a flat surface, you might notice that he moves his legs in a stepping action.

7) Crawling Reflex

When your newborn is on his tummy, he will automatically pull his knees up under his abdomen and push his bottom up into the air as if assuming a crawling position.

Sometimes, he may even be able to shuffle forward by pushing or kicking his legs.

This reflex is derived from a desire to curl up as if in the womb, and will usually disappear around 2 months, or when your baby is able to lie flat.

8) Tonic Neck

If you turn your baby's head to the left side while he is lying on his back, you will notice that he might throw his left leg and arm outward while flexing the right arm and leg.

The opposite reaction occurs when the head is turned to the right.

Newborn Sleeping Patterns (Physical Development)

Close-up of infant sleeping.On average, as your baby is very newborn he might sleep up to 20 hours a day. But as he grows, this will decrease.

By the end of the first month, your baby will typically be sleeping about 15 hours a day, however, he may be awake and alert for 2-3 hours at a time.

But remember again, these are just guidelines about newborn development, not the objective truth!

For instance, my own son slept a lot the first couple of days and from then on, hardly at all. Or at least that was how it felt to me!

During the day he would only doze off a couple of time for about 20-30 minutes.

And at night he would wake up every hour and a half and demand his milk. (If you have a baby that seems very demanding or particularly sensitive, you might like this article about my own experience with my high need baby

For the first few weeks of your baby's life, sleeping is largely connected to feeding. Since most newborns eat 5-8 times daily, your infant may only sleep for a couple of hours before waking because he is hungry.

This can be exhausting, but remember that your baby's tummy is only about the size of his fist, so he will need to eat frequently to make sure he receives enough nutrients to grow and develop properly.

As your baby develops, his stomach will gradually be able to hold larger amounts, and your baby will not need to eat as often. Although sleepless nights may seem endless, it probably won't be long before your little one is sleeping 4 or 5 hours in a row.

But again, babies differ hugely. It took my son years to sleep throughout the night.

So although it goes against many popular theories and may go against your own desire to have predictability and order in your life, it is important that your newborn sets his own sleep schedule.

You see, babies do not choose to stay awake or fall asleep. Their bodies know exactly how much rest they need, and they will sleep and wake according to these needs.

Infant Sensory Milestones (Physical Development)

Your baby learns about his new world through what he sees, hears, tastes, touches, and smells.

In fact, to help him experience his environment and adapt to his new surroundings, he is equipped with amazingly well-developed senses.

1) Sound - Don't Hold Back on Your Talking and Singing

Close-up picture of a baby's ear. Don't hold back on your singing.Babies can hear even before they are born, which is why your little one will recognize the sound of your voice from the moment he enters the world.

Talking to your baby immediately after birth will help with the bonding process and make him feel safe and secure in his new, unfamiliar environment.

Newborns tend to prefer human voices over any other sound, so speaking or singing softly to your baby will hold his interest and help him develop both physically and cognitively.

At first, he will not be able to turn his head toward a sound, but by the third or fourth week, he will probably move his eyes in the direction of a close-by voice or noise.

2) Taste and Smell - As Sharp as They Will Ever Be

Baby's mouth close-up. Babies have a very strong sense of taste.Babies are born with extra taste buds so they have a very good sense of taste. In fact, taste and smell seem to be linked and are often connected to people, particularly the mother.

Your newborn will recognize your scent and may turn his head toward you when you are nearby.

Within a short period, your baby will begin to associate your scent with the sound of your voice.

Several studies of newborn development have shown that newborns prefer the smell of milk to that of sugar water and will actually suck differently on a bottle filled with breast milk than one filled with formula.

If given a choice, most babies have a clear preference for the "sweetness" of breast milk over formula or water.

3) Sight - Clearness and Sharpness Will Come over Time

Newborn development of eye sight. Picture of a baby's eye.Your newborn will only be able to focus on objects that are about 6-15 inches from his face, and he will have a fixated gaze, meaning he will not be able to follow movements with his eyes.

He will begin developing this ability by the end of the first month.

Initially, eye movement will be jerky, but fluidity will gradually increase over time.

Most infants prefer brighter shades or contrasting patterns and will focus for longer periods of time on moving objects, such as a musical mobile rather than stationary objects.

However, more than anything, babies love to look at human faces, although at first they will only be able to see the edges such as the chin, hairline, ears, and accessories like hats or eyeglasses.

So, give your baby lots of opportunity to stare at the people closest to him, and consider putting a mirror in his crib so he can spend some time becoming familiar with his own face.

4) Touch - Something Your Infant Cannot Get Enough of

Babies are very sensitive to touch, and this is one of the best ways to encourage bonding.

In fact, research has shown that physical touch and skin-to-skin contact is very important for infant development and growth in all areas including cognitive and emotional development.

  • "If your baby was handed to you immediately after delivery he may respond right away by looking at you and perhaps suckling at your breast, and you may feel a surge of love. Your baby will feel the closeness of your body, identify your scent, hear the sound of your voice, look into your eyes, and perhaps get the first taste of your breast milk. All of these things will calm him and help him to feel secure."
    (Katy Holland, Your Baby From Birth to Six Months, page 16).

When your baby is first born, his head will droop without support, his nervous system will not be fully mature so his arms and legs will shake, his breathing will be erratic, and his movements will be random and purposeless.

If placed on his stomach, he will lift his head, which will help strengthen his neck and back muscles.

He will close his eyes in bright light, grasp objects placed in his hands, and kick his legs in response to stimulation.

The first month of newborn development is a time of huge physical advancements, and you will notice changes almost daily.

The Psychological and Cognitive Development of Your Infant

At first, the most common way your baby will communicate is by crying.

It is the only way he knows to get your attention and he will cry when he is hungry, bored, uncomfortable, lonely, or just wants to be held or cuddled.

Responding quickly and consistently to his needs will help him develop trust and build a healthy foundation for communication.

  • "Each time you pick him up, play with him, talk or sing to him, cuddle him, smile at him, or soothe him, you are giving your baby information about his world and what it means to be a human being. Above all, you are teaching him that he is loved. This security give him confidence to explore his environment, developing new skills on the way, mainly by watching and copying you"
    (Katy Holland, Your Baby From Birth to Six Months, page 38).

The first month of your baby's life is a time of rapid change, and the main way he learns is by spending time interacting with you.

He is like a thirsty little sponge, ready to absorb not only the skills you teach him but also the emotions and energy you emit towards him.

How to Communicate with Your Newborn

As you hold your baby, you will notice that he watches your face closely and will focus on your lips as you speak to him.

By the end of the first month, he might begin attempting to copy your mouth actions and may even start making sounds as if having a conversation with you.

Almost immediately after birth, your baby will respond to the sound of your voice and will quickly develop the ability to discern your facial expressions as well as the tone and rhythm of your voice.

For example, your newborn may be tense and agitated if you speak in anger or frustration, whereas talking in calm quiet tones may help to relax him. He may stop crying when he hears your voice or wiggle in excitement when you are near.

To help your baby develop language and communication skills, you may spend a lot of time speaking to him in "focused" or "directed" conversation. He will learn more if you talk to him about something that he is already looking at rather than chatting about things that he cannot see.

And the more senses involved, the more impact the conversation will have on cognitive development.

For example, describing a rattle he can see, hear, and touch is much more interesting to him than talking about grandma coming to visit or what daddy does when he is at work. :-)

  • "One of the wonderful opportunities given to new parents is the chance to play with their babies and to observe them while they play alone. A baby's play has a serious purpose. During play, your baby develops his physical, cognitive, emotional, and social skills. Play is often critical to the formation of his identity and personality"
    (Growing With Your Baby: Pre-Birth to Age 5, page 112).

Within the first few weeks following birth, your baby will begin imitating sounds and mouth movements, will respond to specific tones and voices, and will start connecting what he sees with what he hears.

While it may be several months before you hear your child speak his first word, there is still a lot of cognitive and psychological development taking place that is helping your baby build language and communication skills.

The Emotional and Social Development of Your Infant

Intimate moment of mother and baby rubbing noses. Your baby will learn very quickly to recognize the tones and nuances of your voice and will also be able to sense your mood and attitudes.

Reacting to the changing moods of those close to him is an important prerequisite for learning how to respond in various social situations later on.

Initially, a newborn's social interaction will be based solely on his desire to have his physical and existential needs met.

By using the basic principles of attachment parenting: deep, intimate and intuitive bonding with your baby, you will help him feel secure and confident that he is unconditionally loved.

This includes responding to your baby's cries in a positive, consistent manner and being there for him when he needs – or wants you.

By the end of the first month, he will begin to show other ways of socializing such as bobbing his head, wiggling his body, or copying your movements.

If you stick your tongue out, you may notice that he will mimic this action. He may even begin to follow you with his eyes or respond with excitement when you play with him.

Working Towards Secure Attachment and High Self Esteem

As mentioned, it may seem that your newborn only eats, sleeps, and cries, but the first month after birth is actually a very important time of development.

It is during this period of newborn development that a sense of security, even self value and self esteem is established and much of the foundation is built for future skills, abilities and self image.

Many infant milestones are achieved – your baby will recognize your voice and smell, will learn to read your moods and tone, will lift his head when on his tummy, stick his tongue out or copy other mouth movements, and use his reflexes to strengthen his muscles and help improve his coordination.

He will also learn how to adapt to his new environment, use his senses to understand the world around him, and develop the ability to handle the sudden and enormous increase in sensory stimulation that he faces when leaving the womb.

That is a pretty tough job list for such a little one – no wonder he often sleeps so much!

And, even though he might not be awake a lot, the best thing you can give him is your time.

Many child development experts believe that receiving unconditional emotional support – love, full acceptance, frequent cuddling, and existential security – is absolutely essential in child development.

Nothing beats unconditional love as the most powerful force in infant development as well as later child development.

Your Positive Parenting Ally,

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