The first month of a baby's life can be a blur of eat, sleep, poop, repeat. But more is happening with baby's development than you might think, and those early weeks set the stage for a year of remarkable achievements.
Your job as a parent in the first month? Soak up the snuggles and simply respond to your baby's basic needs.
"They've come from this totally nestled, safe and protected environment in your womb and now they're thrust into this amazing, stimulating world," says Claire Lerner, LCSW-C, director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit focused on infant and toddler development. "The task of the first month is really helping babies feel calm and safe and secure...You're actually nurturing their longtime development because when babies feel calm, they're able to take in the world around them, forging relationships and learning."
What to expect: In those first few weeks, it might seem like baby spends all his time snoozing. When he is awake, there's only so much he can do. "At birth, an infant has very little control of her movement because reflexes control early movement," says Anne Zachry, Ph.D., a pediatric occupational therapist and author.
Progression: "As the month progresses, your baby will begin to spend more time awake and will enjoy staring at your face and hearing your voice, so talk to her, sing to her, rock and hold her frequently," Dr. Zachry advises.
How to help: Your baby is unable to explore his world beyond the eight to ten inches he can see, and his jerky movements make it difficult to go after what he wants even at that close range. "This gives parents the perfect opportunity to bring experiences to their baby. Just take baby's hands and guide her in touching various toys, stuffed animals and other interesting sensory items," Dr. Zachry says. And it's never too early to start the activity most babies love to hate: tummy time. "The earlier you start, the better," says Dr. Zachry. In fact, not enough tummy time can lead your baby to fall behind on later developmental milestones.
"Babies need to sleep on their backs, but during the day, they need time on their bellies because that's how they start to push themselves up and develop the arm, shoulder strength and stomach tone, that allows them to sit up and crawl and walk," Lerner says.
If your little one resists tummy time on the floor, turn it into a snuggle session by stretching out with your baby on your stomach or chest, suggests Dr. Zachry. "Sing a song, and slowly rock your body from side to side to incorporate some movement while baby is positioned like this," she says. "This is an excellent way to calm your little one if he doesn't seem to enjoy the position."
When you should you worry: If your baby seems nonresponsive to sudden loud noises or doesn't look at, or at least briefly track, an interesting object, it could be a cause for concern.
Don't freak out if: Your baby's eyes occasionally cross or don't always move in the same direction. "This is quite normal," Dr. Zachry says.
Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.