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Infant Development

Coming into the world is a very big and scary adventure for babies. At first they don't know that you are there to comfort them and feed them and care for them. They only know when they feel comfortable and safe, or afraid, or hungry, or unsafe. However, even from birth, they start to communicate with you and give you little signals when they are tired or hungry or awake and alert. They are learning all the time, and the job of parents/caregivers is to help them know that the world is a welcoming place for them to be in, where their needs will be met and they will learn to feel safe and loved. Remember that for a baby everything is new and scary at first, even a diaper change.

Social and Emotional Development

  • Newborn babies can not understand what is happening to them.

  • They do not know that they are people.

  • They do not know who is feeding them, or who helps when they cry.

  • They feel happy when they feed, but they do not know what 'happy' is.

  • They cry when they are hungry or need to sleep, but they do not know that they are being cared for. The first and prehaps most important thing to understand about newborn babies is that they do not have any understanding of being a separate person inside their own skin, and certainly not a person in relationship with other people.

  • Newborn babies do not cry 'for attention' or to 'get at' their parents/caregivers. A new baby in the first three months is not capable of responding to you with any conscious purpose. They have feelings of pleasure when they feed successfully or hear your soothing voice, feelings of pain when they feel hungry or frightened, but they don't actually know that fear is what they feel and neither do they understand there is a 'them' to feel it. So if they hear loud or frightening noises for instance and feel fear, they have no way of knowing that they did not cause this themselves. In other words, they think they are their environment, so it matters very much what their environment is like.

  • Because babies feel, but are not yet able to think, they will pick up your feelings and become unhappy themselves if you are unhappy. This can be inconvenient because if you feel upset it will be impossible to hide it from the baby; she will think it's her feelings and respond as if it was. So, whenever you are tired and frazzled it's a rule that the baby is hard to settle!

  • Each baby is different, and each grows and develops along the pathway that is right for this baby. Every baby is very different. You have heard that before, but it is really true and means that every baby has a different constitution and personality that may be very different from your own. They may be easygoing and placid or they may be shy and worried, or possess many other natural ways of responding that you will be getting to learn about and recognize over the early months.

  • The human face is the first and most important shape that they learn, and the sounds of human voices are very important to them, even though they do not understand them. Even shy and sleepy babies will want to take an interest in you, especially in your voice and your face. A big section of the human brain is devoted to understanding and remembering faces and a large part of our social behavior is based on how we 'read' other people's faces. Looking into someone's eyes is a necessity for 'falling in love' and forming a close and warm relationship. Show them your face and talk to them soothingly right from the start. Don't feel rejected if they turn away; tiny babies often get tired when they interact and frequently need rest.

  • Babies need to feel safe, and know that someone is looking after them. They often begin to smile at a familiar face by around 4 to 6 weeks, and will look at you carefully from around the same time.


Physical Development

  • Although babies are ready to exist and grow outside of their mother's womb, most parts of their bodies are still immature. All new babies are very busy with their body. All brand new and never been used before, it takes the first three months to get the digestive system cranked up and running smoothly. You can tell by your baby's face that she is preoccupied a lot of the time with whatever is going on inside herself.

  • Since babies do not understand anything about what is happening around them, they can become distressed if they are given too much to see or do. They are being bombarded by what is outside themselves and can easily feel overwhelmed by the stimulation of the diverse sounds, colors, shapes and tactile sensations in the world outside the womb. Sometimes it's just too much! Loud noises will frighten most babies in their first months, but they are soothed by crooning and the sound of gentle voices and music they heard in the womb.



  • Many babies who are under three months old cry a lot, especially in the late afternoon or evening.

  • This crying, often called colic, seems in part due to being overwhelmed by all that is happening inside their bodies as well as outside (their environment).

  • Note: "Jiggling" babies is not a good way to help them settle and can be very scary or even painful for the baby even if he stops crying. It is important never to shake a baby!


Hearing and Seeing

  • Newborn babies can see but they can only clearly see things that are close by. Newborns have immature eye muscles, and while they can see - particularly at close range - they cannot organize the visual images into meaningful shapes. In the first three months they are attracted to bright light, primary colors, stripes, dots and patterns. The human face is the first 'object' they recognize by understanding that the eyes, nose and mouth form a face. Over the first three months they begin to recognize particular faces and other things (like their teddy bear) in their world. Stringing pictures of faces and simple toys about their crib will give them practice at organizing shapes visually.

  • They can hear, and they have been hearing noises from well before they were born.


Using Their Bodies

  • New babies move their bodies while they are awake, but they do not yet know how to make each part of their body move, or even that all the bits belong to them. Infants in the first eight weeks have no control over their movements and all their physical activity is involuntary or reflex. Sucking, grasping and startling are all reflexes. In their third month they will begin to watch their hands and feet wave in the air and also begin to wave their fist towards your face or some other desired object. They are beginning to get the idea that they have a body that moves, feels and has skin all round it.

  • They start to work out how to lift their heads when lying on the tummy, and kick their legs by about eight weeks.


Speech and Language

  • For the newborn, crying is the only means of communication and different cries mean different things - hunger, pain, wet and cold, and fear.

  • You will begin to recognize your own baby's different cries and the urgency of their needs in the first ten weeks. It is important to respond to your tiny baby as soon as practical so he begins to understand that you will be there for him when he calls out for you.

  • By 7 or 8 weeks babies will begin to discover their voice and make cooing noises and vowel sounds.

  • Even by about 8 weeks they will listen to what you say, then make noises back as they 'talk' to you.


Activities For Young Babies

  • make a face mobile and hang it, facing them, about their crib

  • stroke different parts of their body to see how they like to be touched

  • speak to them gently and use their name

  • play them music

  • sing to them

  • hold them a lot

  • let them look at your face as you talk to them

  • copy their little gestures

  • rock them

  • lots of feeding and hopefully sleeping.



  • Most babies will still be waking up for a feeding once or twice during the night.

  • Some sleep through the night, but this is unusual.

  • Some babies will resettle when you touch and soothe them.


Signs that suggest that the child may have a developmental problem.

  • child unusually 'floppy' or stiff

  • arm and leg on one side are obviously different in muscle tone or power than the other

  • unusually 'good' head control (muscles stiff)

  • fingers always held in tight fist

  • not watching faces by 2 to 3 months

  • not startled by noise

  • difficulties with feeding beyond 'normal' range

  • long periods of crying, persistent difficulties with settling baby

  • exceptionally 'good'

  • not watching the face when being spoken to by 2 to 3 months


Most parents/caregivers find having a baby from three months very enjoyable. The baby will have come a long way in the last three months and many of the internal "settling down" processes that newborns have will have been overcome. Three month old babies are usually very social beings who delight in being with you. And parents/caregivers have usually learned enough about the baby's ways and messages to get their responses right for most of the time.


Social and Emotional Development

  • By three or four months old the baby is beginning to get a bit of a handle on being in the world and you are getting to know each other.

  • She will be making eye contact with you and you will be smiling at each other. She will be able to 'read' some of your expressions and she will look worried if you look cross or worried.

  • She has learned that you are the person (or one of the people) who comes a lot of the time to meet her needs, but she does not yet fully understand that you are a separate person.

  • She still has an idea that the whole of life is happening inside herself and she is making all of it happen. (The idea that you are completely separate from her, and can take yourself away from her, will not come until she is seven months or older.) When you understand what she wants to try and meet her needs, she feels that the world is safe and predictable and good things come from inside her as well as from you. She is getting the idea that relationships are rewarding and also that she is valuable; this is an important basis for her relationship with you and other people as well as her own self esteem.

  • At this stage she is often happy to smile and engage with strangers because she is getting so much pleasure from smiling and engaging with you.

  • You and she will be having 'conversations' with each other; she will be getting excited at the feeling of you responding to her and kicking her legs and waving her arms.

  • She will still easily become over stimulated, so take care; when she does have too much excitement she will start to cry and need to be calmed down.


At four months the baby:

  • smiles a lot

  • laughs out loud and squeals with delight

  • shows she enjoys life by laughing and kicking her legs

  • likes people

  • is interested in surroundings and activities going on around her

  • clearly shows enjoyment at being bathed, talked to, etc.


Physical Development and Motor Skills

  • The baby is starting to get some control over his body, even starting to realize that it is actually his body.

  • He will spend time looking carefully at his hands and touching and looking at his feet, getting the idea that it feels from the outside as well as the inside and it's all attached.

  • He will grasp at objects in front of him now and you will need to put stronger mobiles about his crib.

  • His body might be hard for him to control, but it does interesting things when he can! It is good for him to spend time on his tummy on the floor kicking his legs and waving his arms as if he is about to swim off at any moment. This strengthens his back and helps him work up to crawling. He will get frustrated after a while with not being able to hold his head up for a long time or move forward, but give him as long as he can tolerate. [Note: Do not leave a baby on his tummy when he sleeps. Sleeping on the tummy increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).]

  • Put interesting things on the floor near him and stimulate his desire to move towards them when he is ready. He will take everything to his mouth; that's his way of exploring the shapes and textures of objects. Rattles, toys, etc. - anything smooth, graspable, too large to swallow and preferably colored - will be a good object for him to discover the nature of matter.


The baby:

  • rolls over from front to back at about 4 to 6 months

  • is able to lift head and chest when on his tummy by 4 months

  • when on tummy will lift and wave his arms and legs about

  • begins to discover hands belong to him and plays with fingers about 3 to 4 months

  • grabs and plays with his toes when lying on his back at about 4 to 5 months

  • is able to hold objects for brief periods at about 3 to 4 months

  • brings toys and objects to his mouth if put in his hand

  • swipes at dangling objects at about 3 to 4 months, but usually misses

  • topples over if put in sitting position

  • grabs for toys such as a block or rattle at around 5 months

  • is able to support own weight when stood on feet (Don't do this too much; it does not mean he is ready to walk.)

  • when being held he grabs at hair, glasses, other objects like badges or chains


Hearing and Speech

  • She is starting to get a handle on the shape of the world and the incoming signals.

  • Her eye muscles work well and she can follow you with her eyes - moving from one object to another and focussing on small objects.

  • If she can she will check her perception by grasping and mouthing the object.

  • Her exploring is important, so give her time to look properly at objects and try to help her be comfortable so she can concentrate on them.

  • Sounds as well as sights are becoming familiar and defined - the baby will recognize voices and turn her head towards them.


Speech and Language

The baby will now be making a whole range of sounds; indeed some that you are not able to make yourself and that might sound like a foreign language. This is because he is born with the potential to speak any language and we cultivate and discard particular sounds according to the language we speak.

  • He will be very interested in how your mouth works and how the sound comes out.

  • Show him your tongue and practice simple sounds together - "maa", "daa" are good ones to begin with.

  • When he makes a sound, repeat it to him so he knows what sound he has made.

  • Repeat single words to him a lot (especially his name) and associate them with an event or object. These conversations are extremely important, not just because you are teaching him to talk, but also because he is getting the feeling of a 'him' and a 'you' and joining in the middle through language. This is a new and complicated concept and is the basis for all his relationships throughout his life.

  • Babies can start to be interested in books from a very early age.


The baby:

  • coos and gurgles with pleasure

  • begins babbling and then listening at around 3 to 4 months

  • 'talks' to toys at around 5 to 6 months

  • turns head towards sounds


Activities for a 3 to 6 Month Old Child

  • Talk to the baby all the time, telling her what you are doing and what different noises are.

  • Make faces and blow rasperries on her belly.

  • Sing to her.

  • Place her on the floor in a safe place on her tummy for short periods of play.

  • Place her on the floor without a diaper to allow her the freedom to kick.

  • Provide her with bright objects to look at and within reaching distance so that she can accidentally touch them initially and then try to touch them again.

  • Provide her with a variety of things to do and either change what she is looking at or move her to a different spot so she has something else to look at.

  • Place colorful toys nearby for her to touch/try to touch, look at and hit.


ALERT! - These are very important months. Don't hesitate to get help from a doctor or community health nurse if:

  • the baby is unhappy or unsettled much of the time

  • you are unhappy or anxious much of the time

  • the baby is not turning to look for you when you speak

  • the baby is not smiling and cooing even some of the time

  • the baby is not kicking his legs

  • you feel that you and the baby just aren't getting along together as well as you would like


Signs that suggest that the child may have a developmental problem.

  • the baby shows no obvious pleasure in interacting with people

  • the baby is not making eye contact with people

  • muscle tone and power unusually low or high

  • fingers not extending spontaneously

  • arms and legs held flexed most of the time

  • not following activities with eyes

  • persistently unable to settle baby

  • lack of adequate weight gain

  • does not seem to recognize mother or others

  • shows lack of interest in surroundings

  • not startled by loud noises

  • not seeking around with eyes

  • no vocalizations


You and the baby are starting to feel (and act) like separate people. She is starting to sit up, reach out and act on the world. She worries that you might not come back when you go away from her and lets you know it. She will really respond to you providing lots of things to look at, touch and safely put in her mouth. Time playing on her tummy on the floor will strengthen her back and get her legs into crawling mode.

Social and Emotional Development

There are some big emotional and physical developments in the baby that you will notice between six and nine months. The baby is becoming able to move around and take a much more active part in family life.

  • Firstly and most importantly, she begins to realize she is a separate person surrounded by her own skin (and finishing at her hands and feet). She no longer experiences floating in a sea of feelings and needs where the outside and the inside are all mixed together; instead she begins to feel she has an outside and an inside and to know where the boundary of the outside is. She will start to understand that you are separate from her, and it will worry her when she can't see you or feel you nearby.

  • Secondly, her insides feel more organized to her. She begins to recognize and identify her own feelings and that they are different. For instance she may know the difference between feeling hungry and feeling lonely and may be able to give you some clue as to whether she wants food or a cuddle. She knows this because you have helped her to recognize different feelings by responding to her hunger with food and her lonliness with cuddles, etc.

  • She will begin to have desires of her own - simple things she knows she wants - like wanting to hold an object or wanting to be picked up immediately. Her desires may not always be the same as yours and for the first time you may feel yourself clash with her tiny will!

  • She will, in the course of these months, come to recognize the important, familiar people in her world and therefore become sensitive to strangers. By 9 months she will be shy with strangers, and for a while she might not even want to be too close to people she knows, such as her grandparents. However, it is a very sociable age and she will love to be talked to and played with.


Physical Development

He will put everything in his mouth. His lips are the most sensitive part of his body and will give him lots of information about texture, shape and taste. Also, he will be learning that some parts of the world (food) can be swallowed, while other parts cannot (toys).

  • He will start to take some mashed solids around this time, and later some soft finger food such as toast.

  • At first it is hard for him to work out the eating action because he is used to sucking, so keeping the food inside his mouth can be a challenge!

  • Just because the mashed peas get spat out does not necessarily mean he hates it; he just may not yet have gotten the hang of keeping it inside his mouth. The different textures feel very strange to him at first.


Moving - At some time during these four months the baby will be able to:

  • roll over, front to back and back to front

  • sit alone for a few minutes when you put him into a sitting position, then manage to sit up by himself without falling over

  • do push ups to move while on his tummy, first 'commando' style, i.e. pulling himself along on his arms, then crawl on all fours

  • reach for a rattle and shake it

  • swap a toy from one hand to the other

  • find his feet, play with them and put them in his mouth



His eye muscles will be working well and he will be able to focus on small objects. He also develops a perception of depth and, therefore, can be afraid of heights and falling. By 9 months he can not only see a drop, but understand that it is scary.



He will turn towards familiar sounds and voices and want to make sounds himself, not only verbally, but by banging objects together.


Speech and Language

While she has been cooing and babbling for many weeks her sounds will now take on a closer resemblance to real words.

  • She enjoys making sounds and she knows that she has made them.

  • She will experiment with and copy different sounds like clicks and lip bubbles as well as her word-like sounds.

  • She will use lots of different sounds to express different emotions; frustrated grunts, squeals and laughs of delight are all in her repertoire.

  • She will listen to you carefully when you speak to her, and she will try to talk back to you using her babbling sounds.

  • She will probably be putting a vowel and a consonant together as in "muum, bubbub".

  • She might say "ma-ma-ma" because she can, rather than because she understands that this sound is a word she can use when she wants her mother. Even though it may still be accidental, these same sounds will be repeated as she works out how to make the noises.


Activities for the 6 to 9 Month Old

He loves to touch and grasp and to 'make things happen,' i.e. make things shake or bang or move towards him. These activities are not only great fun, but also help him to understand that he has an effect on the world; he can DO things to it. If we want our children to be able to act in the world when they are grown up, this is very important.

Conceptually, he is learning about 'up and down' as well as 'coming and going' and he will love to play games that act these things out.

He will love to:

  • have you talk to him

  • have you look into his eyes

  • lie on his back and grab his feet

  • lie on his tummy and reach for a brightly colored toy or piece of paper

  • have you play "here is your nose - here is mommy's nose"

  • drop his toy from the highchair endlessly and delight at watching you pick it up

  • play 'ahh boo' as you bring your face quickly down to his tummy

  • play 'peek-a-boo' as you hide your face behind a book or cloth and say his name when you come out


At this age, although they want things that they can hold, shake, drop and put into their mouths, babies still need most of all to be with and to interact with people, especially their parents and other people who are close to them such as brothers, sisters, grandparents, and caregivers. People are much more interesting than things.

ALERT! - You should check with a health professional if, by nine months of age, the child is not:

  • sitting up without help by 8 to 9 months

  • smiling and laughing out loud

  • grasping, holding and shaking things

  • reaching out for objects and putting them into her mouth

  • turning towards you when you call her name

  • beginning to try some 'solid' foods

  • making lots of different sounds


The child may be progressing quite normally, but most babies can do these things by 9 months.

Signs that suggest that the child may have a developmental problem.

  • the baby does not show pleasure when he sees familiar people

  • is not making eye contact

  • cannot be reassured by mother or caregiver

  • is not sitting by 9 months

  • holds his body stiff and cannot be put into a sitting position

  • is not interested in, and/or reaching for objects by 8 months

  • the baby does not recognize his mother

  • does not show interest in surroundings

  • does not babble or make other sounds when someone talks to him


The baby is moving around and the pace of life has quickened somewhat. This may suit you if you found the tiny baby stages restrictive. He will be 'talking' and making recognizable sounds and he will really love you talking to him and repeating single words clearly.

He may be clingy and wary of strangers, but he is forming special relationships with family members and caregivers and his personality will be becoming clearer to you.

Social and Emotional Development

It is usually in these three months that the baby begins to understand his very special relationship with you, and with friends and relatives. He starts to know that when you go away, you will come back again, and that you are still there even when he cannot see you. No wonder 'peek-a-boo' and 'hiding' are favorite games, because they play out in a simple way the comings and goings of people that the baby has come to recognize and depend upon. He also has some understanding that you see him and that he can hide from you, although he still thinks that if he can't see you, you can't see him. He starts to understand that he is a person, and he can recognize himself in the mirror.

He will have developed some definite ideas about what he likes and does not like. He may kick and resist diaper changes or other restrictions on his freedom.


He will smile and babble and try to engage you in a conversation and copy simple hand games like 'clap hands' or 'bye bye.' In other words, he is becoming aware of himself as a social creature. He understands the meaning of "no," although he is going to spend the next eighteen months checking its meaning exactly!


The down side of all this is he is frightened when you leave him and will cling and cry, and (very sensibly) be wary of strangers.


Moving Around

The big breakthrough in motor development is that she will move all on her own. She might pull herself along with her arms, roll around or crawl on all fours. During this time she will start to pull herself to stand and support her weight while holding on to you or to furniture. Some babies will start to walk by themselves during these months, although many won't walk for a few months yet.


It's a big thing to see the baby standing on her own two feet - probably holding on and not walking quite yet - but vertical nevertheless. If you have loved the tiny baby stage you may have some sadness when the baby starts to look like a child or else you may be relieved to see the promise of some independence to come.


Safety is a big issue when babies start to move around by themselves. You need to baby-proof your house and make sure all poisons and dangerous items are locked away up high. Put things that she might break well out of reach too. She can't stop herself from touching anything that looks interesting.


Her fine motor skills are improving quickly too. She can pick up an object with her thumb and fingers rather than grabbing with the palm of her hand. She pokes and points with her finger and transfers objects from one hand to another. She cannot, however, control putting things down and she has to drop to release objects from her grasp. She will still put anything she holds into her mouth and, now that she can pick up small things, this can be a risky time for swallowing dangerous objects or choking.


She will be able to sit on her own for quite a long time and will enjoy exploring objects and the sounds she can make with them while sitting on the floor.


She will be feeding herself in her high chair although she may often be more interested in squishing and feeling than actually eating. She is also able to drink out of a cup with a spout without help.



He has gotten the idea of conversations now and, even though he may not have any recognizable words, he will 'chat' away with the right inflection in his voice. He may be saying simple sounds like 'mumum' and 'daddad.' He recognizes several words and may shake his head for "no."

He is not making the huge variety of sounds that he was in earlier months because his sounds are more specific to his native tongue. He begins to drop (for instance) those European sounds deep in the back of his throat for more English, front of mouth sounds (if English is his native tongue).

He begins to love music and rhymes and he will bounce and sway to the rhythm. He will love the repetition of songs that help him to learn that language in itself is a musical thing. Babies can be very interested in books now.

Activities for the 9 to 12 Month Old Child

  • make her a kitchen cupboard of her own to open and shut the door

  • give her pots and spoons to bang

  • sing songs and repeat phrases

  • bounce her and sing

  • look at simple books with clear pictures in them

  • play 'hiding' behind the couch or curtains

  • talk to her a lot

  • sit her on the floor with her toys

  • encourage her to push a trolley with blocks in it

  • cuddle and roll on the floor


Children of this age still like being with people best of all, but they are starting to have some interest in toys that do something, like move or make noise.


ALERT! - Seek help from a health professional if the baby by 12 months is not:

  • pulling himself up to stand

  • moving around somehow

  • changing objects from one hand to the other

  • looking up when you call his name

  • copying simple sounds like "mummum"

  • showing signs of being especially attached to his parent

  • smiling, laughing and trying to attract your attention

Signs that suggest that the child may have a developmental problem.

  • does not show pleasure when she sees familiar people

  • does not show anxiety when separated from her main caregiver

  • is not sitting by 9 to 10 months

  • is not starting to move around by any means

  • is not interested in new objects

  • babbling has not become more complex and baby does not babble in 'conversation' with others


Note: All children are different and develop at different rates. So if your child does not do all the things in this topic, it may be because your child is working on some different area of his learning and development at the time.


The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, consult a doctor.


To receive a certificate of training hours you must complete a quiz based on the material above. You are required to get all questions correct. If you do not get 100% on the quiz the first time, you may take it over again. The results of the quiz will be emailed to Mid Michigan Child Care Food Program. When we receive the results of your quiz, a certificate of training completed will pop up that you can print. A copy of the certificate will also be emailed to you. 

Infant Development Quiz

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