Even if you fear you don't know the first thing about newborns, after a few weeks with your own little darling, you start to hear a difference between his hungry and tired cries. You know how he prefers to be rocked and burped. You grow more confident about your parenting skills. If it weren't for the exhaustion and the hormonal overload, you'd feel like you have everything under control. But all it takes is a small, paranoid though -- is my baby eating enough? Is all this crying unusual? -- and you can easily fall into a spiral of anxious concern. You seek out friends and ask, "Does he look okay to you?" They say yes, but still, you can't help but worry.
So you search around online and read the comforting, vague phrases: "Healthy babies exhibit a wide range of behaviors, appearances, and temperaments." Question is, how do you know that your baby is happy and developing normally? To help reassure you, we've assembled a list of indicators to watch for that prove an infant is doing just fine. Relax, will you?
What It Proves: You've got a good relationship.
Newborns cry. A lot. And no, just talking to your baby will probably not turn off the tears. Your voice was the soundtrack to her time in the womb, though, so it should be something that generally draws her attention. "A baby is used to being in close quarters, and your voice was a big part of that experience," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., pediatrician and coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn. "After they're born, hearing your voice, being wrapped and carried, and feeling your body heat all mimic that peaceful time." When your child is calmed by your presence, that's her first step in bonding with you and a clear sign that she's developing emotionally.
What It Proves: He's getting enough milk and growing at a healthy rate, even if how much he drinks changes day by day.
If you're nursing, how can you be sure your baby is drinking enough breast milk? The proof is in the wet diapers.
"My baby was born five weeks before her due date and weighed only 5 pounds," says Sara Porth, of South Deerfield, Massachusetts. "I was always worried about her weigh-ins. I didn't relax about her eating until she started making significant gains about ten days after birth."
It's important to keep your well-baby visits so the pediatrician can assess whether your baby is growing. In between trips to the doctor, wet diapers are the best sign he's drinking well. Trust these indicators rather than obsessing over how much he consumes at each meal. Babies don't eat the same amount every day, or even every feeding. "There are growth spurts and slowdowns," Dr. Shu says. The important thing is that weight increases over time.
What It Proves: She's observing the world and starting to learn.
Those first blurry weeks will be marked by feedings (about every 2 hours) and sleep (about 16 hours a day, but only a few hours in a row). In between all that, there's crying -- and very little else. It's not until your baby begins gaining control of her eye muscles and focusing on a target (you most of all) that you'll get a sense of what a little sponge you have on your hands. When infants are quiet and alert, they're taking note of everything around them and processing all kinds of new information. "Babies begin having more awake time when they're about 1 month old," Dr. Shu says. "That's when they can briefly settle down and soak in more visual cues."
What It Proves: His hearing is developing, and he's using his brain to discern sounds.
Babies are able to hear from birth, but it takes a few weeks for them to be able to filter out the white noise of daily existence outside the womb. The idea that some sounds are more interesting than others (the dull roar of the air conditioner is not as important as a big sister's sudden shrieks of laughter) develops over time. The sound of music, especially, will eventually get a baby's attention, whether it's coming from a toy or your stereo. Once you see your baby react to sound by looking for the source, you'll know his ears are healthy and he's growing curious about what he's hearing.
What It Proves: Eyesight is sharpening and baby's brain development is ramping up.
You wouldn't think that the ability to space out while staring at a ceiling fan would be a sign of progress, but it is. Babies are born with eyesight that's about 20/100, and they can see between 8 and 12 inches away -- about the distance between your baby's face and yours when you're feeding her. By 1 month, she can see up to 18 inches away. And by 2 months, most babies start tracking patterns, bright colors, and objects that spin, such as a mobile or fan. They don't have perfect color vision or good depth perception, which is why contrasting colors tend to get their attention.
What It Proves: Your baby is becoming a social -- and happy -- creature.
The first moment of eye contact with your newborn usually comes when he's a month old, the first smile by about 2 months, cooing at 3 months, and laughing by 4 months -- and none of these milestones comes a moment too soon. "I've been craving any sort of interaction I can get with Zachary," says Sally Lee, of New York City, whose son is 2 months old. "I can't imagine that he'll one day be sitting up and actually talking to me."
All of these interactions show that your baby is connecting with you and becoming more aware of his surroundings. On some level, he understands that people interact with him more when he behaves in a socially engaging manner. By the time a baby is about 5 months, he almost has to smile when someone smiles at him, as if it's a reflex.
All of these behaviors are important indicators of early language development. "Babies use body language, including eye contact and facial expressions, long before they can speak," Dr. Shu says. "It's a precursor to communicating with words." When your child coos and babbles, he's testing out his vocal cords, your little baby really will eventually start chatting away.
What It Proves: His nervous system is maturing. You've made it out of the newborn juggernaut!
Aah. Do you feel that barely perceptible shift in your baby's routines? As in, there is a glimmer of a routine? That's a result of his nervous system learning the ropes. Look for the emergence of several naps a day and stretches of four or more hours between feedings at night. Some babies get there fast; others won't till they're 4 months or so. If your baby's older than that and still eating and sleeping at unpredictable times, try making his days more tightly scheduled. Then it's your turn to find a brand-new mom and reassure her: ?Your baby is doing great!?
What It Proves: Those mini muscles are getting stronger.
Lots of babies hold their head up briefly -- so briefly! -- by 1 month. By the time they're 3 months old, they're typically doing so more regularly and with greater skill. If your baby can hold her head up or shift around in your arms, you know she's flexing her growing muscles. To help her along, make sure she's spending quality time outside the carrier or car seat. Tummy time on the floor (most babies' version of an exercise class) can especially help speed up the development of different muscles, including ones that allow her to roll or sit unassisted. "We see that babies who haven't had a chance to exercise with tummy time tend to roll, sit, and crawl later than the norm," Dr. Shu says.