Birth to 2 months Developmental summary

Topic What's going on for baby? How can parents and whānau help?
Newborns — What are they learning to do?

Newborns are learning how to get their needs met in their new world. Through the messages they receive via their 5 senses, brain cells are busy connecting into pathways throughout their brain.  By repeating experiences, pathways are strengthened and then become permanent.

Sometimes with so many new sensory experiences happening at once, or for too long, a newborn can easily become overstimulated. Premature babies are especially prone to ‘sensory overload’.

Most of newborns’ movements are uncontrolled reflexes. These have ‘survival value’ for a newborn, but over time are gradually replaced by conscious movements.

One of the first things baby can choose to do is move their eyes to look at something new — faces of familiar people are very popular. They are likely to first smile at around 6 weeks old.

  • During daily care routines, watch baby’s face and body movements and listen to their sounds and cries. This way they will learn their baby’s cues for hunger, pain, tiredness and feeling alone.
  • Keep watching closely for signs baby has ‘had enough’ and may become overwhelmed.
  • With premature babies, try to limit the amount of sensory stimulation going on around them. For example, don’t have the TV, stereo, bright lights and conversations all going on at once — especially if baby is showing signs of overstimulation.
  • Swaddle or wrap baby firmly, similar to the way they were ‘contained’ before birth. This can help them feel safe and reduce startling reflexive movements, which can easily unsettle newborns.
  • Enjoy baby’s smiles and respond by making eye contact, smiling and showing them how much they’re loved.

Baby’s smiles are the reward for the whānau for all their loving care and attention!

Communicating

From very early on, a baby is learning to communicate. They’ll explore what sounds they can make with their lips, and may learn to blow raspberries, gurgle and coo, and make simple sounds like ‘ba’, ‘pa’, ‘ma’ and ‘da’.

They’re also learning the sounds of the languages people speak around them, and may begin to recognise the name of someone or something they have heard often. This will include their own name, and they may show recognition by turning when they hear it.

  • Listen to baby and copy their sounds, so baby is encouraged to keep communicating with mum and dad.
  • Use ‘parentese’ in whatever languages whānau speak.
  • Talk face-to-face with baby, so they can watch the speaker’s mouth as they make sounds.
  • Give baby time to ‘reply’.
  • Take turns when having a conversation with baby — your turn, then baby’s turn. This way baby starts to learn the process of sharing through having turns.
  • Talk with and sing to baby often.
  • Share simple board books together.
Getting to know their world

During this period baby can recognise familiar people and their voices. They’ll also be learning about care routines in their whānau for feeding, bathing and sleeping.

Knowing what comes next helps baby feel secure — ‘If baby can anticipate, baby can participate’.

Through consistent nurturing and care routines, a baby learns to trust the world. Then their attachment relationship with their parents and whānau grows stronger.

A secure relationship is the basis on which confidence, curiosity and exploration develop best. 

  • Respond quickly and warmly to baby when they cry.
  • Encourage whānau members to speak to baby using ‘parentese’, in whatever languages they speak best.
  • Show family photos to baby or make them their own little whānau photo album.
  • Play ‘peekaboo’ with baby.
  • Do daily activities with baby like feeding, nappy changing and bathing in the same way and order each time, so baby learns the patterns.
Growing brains

A baby’s brain is now developing millions of connections between the neurons. These connections happen because of the many sensory experiences baby has with people, places and things.

Their brain grows in size with the increase in brain connections.

Trusting relationships with their whānau gives baby a great start in life, building their confidence and curiosity. That trust, combined with their developing vision, ability to sit, and ability to use their eyes and hands together, means they will be ready to explore.

  • Build a trusting relationship with baby — because a secure baby is likely to be a curious baby who will be interested in learning about their world.
  • Think about how to handle baby when they pull on hair, grab at glasses and chomp at the nipple. It’s okay to let baby know it hurts, and to respond firmly and gently.
  • Remember to take baby for Well Child/Tamariki Ora visits, so their eyes and ears can be checked, and their head can be measured.

Well Child/Tamariki Ora checks are scheduled for when baby is 4–6 weeks and 3–4 months old (Well Child/Tamariki Ora, My health book, pages 65–66 and 73–74.)

  • If whānau suspect baby has an ear infection, take baby to the doctor to check if treatment is needed. A baby needs to hear consistently and well to make connections in the brain for understanding language.
Growing, healthy and safe

Babies are getting stronger and gaining more control over their bodies. They’ll learn to roll from back to puku, and from puku to back. They’ll be looking at their hands and discovering what they can do with them — reaching, grasping, batting and bringing things up to their mouth to explore.

Babies depend on their whānau to keep them safe, including protecting them from exposure to cigarette smoke.  Even after a smoker has left, toxins in the air can remain and can increase baby’s risk of getting glue ear, chest infections and asthma.

They may have a growth spurt around 3 months old and could need more milk. By 6 months old they may show interest in starting solids and have their first tooth. They may be able to sit with a little support behind them. A soft and warm adult is perfect!

  • Check how safe home is by getting down to baby’s level and looking for things that could harm baby or that baby could damage. Move those things out of baby’s reach.
  • Give baby time on the floor, as this is the safest place for them to practise moving and learning about what their body can do.
  • Whānau can sit on the floor, with baby between their legs and a small container or basket in front. Have 2 or 3 items in the basket for baby to explore, and talk about the items with baby.
  • Make a simple play gym so baby can explore by reaching, grasping and batting at the objects.
  • Clean baby’s new teeth using a soft brush or cloth. Tooth decay can start as soon as a tooth appears. Don’t put baby to bed with a bottle, as this can cause both tooth decay and the development of ear infections.
  • Hold off giving baby solids before 6 months old, as they may not get enough of their most important food — breast milk (or formula). It can also increase the chances of gastric or respiratory problems, and allergies.  Check their Well Child/Tamariki Ora My health book, page 145, for signs they might be ready to start solids.
  • Make the whānau home and car smoke-free. Only smoke outside and wear a ‘smoking jacket’, which can be left outside before coming indoors or holding baby.
Newborns — what they need from big people

At this time, a new baby is totally dependent on their whānau. They’re working out how to get their needs met for food, sleep, comfort and company. 

Unable yet to soothe themselves, they also rely on whānau to help calm them when they’re upset. Through gentle touch and calming voices, they’ll learn how — but they need the support from their whānau for that to happen.

They’re also dependent on their whānau to protect them:

  • against sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI)
  • when travelling in the car
  • from the harmful effects of cigarette smoke.

Exposure to cigarette smoke can lead to illnesses like asthma, glue ear and chest infections.

  • Learn soothing and calming techniques.
  • Respond quickly to baby when they’re upset and try the ‘5 S’s’:
    • swaddling
    • lying baby on the side or stomach
    • shushing
    • swinging or swaying
    • sucking — helping baby learn to self soothe by sucking a finger, thumb or pacifier.
  • Learn baby’s cues for hunger, pain, tiredness and feeling alone. Watch their face and body movements, and listen to their sounds and cries.
  • Let baby hold on to dad or mum’s finger when they’re feeding, and try some gentle baby massage.
  • Practice safe sleeping techniques - put baby to bed ‘face up and face clear’. If parents co-sleep with baby, think about getting a pëpi pod or wahakura for baby to lie safely with them in their bed.
  • Breast feed if possible — this also helps to protect baby against SUDI.
  • Use a properly fitted and approved baby car seat, which faces the rear of the car. Take baby out of the car seat when they’re not in the car. This avoids baby staying in a curved position for longer than needed, where their head can fall forward and restrict their breathing.
  • Make the whānau home and car smoke-free. Smoke outside and wear a ‘smoking shirt’ while smoking, which can be taken off before going inside or holding baby.
Newborns — Adjusting to the world outside the womb

Newborns are adjusting to being in the world outside the womb and finding out if they can trust that world to meet their needs for food, comfort, sleep and company.

When they are responded to quickly and warmly, a baby learns to trust their world and the people in it. This sense of security helps to develop their curiosity, which leads on to further exploration and learning as they grow.

A newborn will sleep for short periods, and isn’t yet aware of the difference between day and night. They may have an unsettled period between late afternoon and early evening. This could be due to overtiredness, too much stimulation or colic.

Their vision is developing, with a new baby seeing most clearly between 20 and 40 centimetres away. This is the approximate distance between a mum’s face and baby’s when they’re at the breast. They’re likely to gaze at faces, which is one way they learn about their whānau.

  • Build baby’s trust, respond to them straight away, so they learn that someone will come and help them when they’re distressed.
  • Understand that they can’t spoil their baby by giving them their time and attention.
  • Make baby’s world warm and calm and use gentle voices and gentle touch.
  • Rock them and hold them close. Try carrying them in a baby sling to keep them near while having ‘hands free’.
  • Sing lullabies and use soft lighting to help to keep them calm.
  • Spend time holding baby, making eye contact, smiling, talking and singing face-to-face.
  • Notice what baby does when responded to in this way — they may try to copy sounds and mouth movements.
  • Try to plan, so early evening isn’t too time pressured.
  • Make night-time feeds quiet and with minimal light, so baby learns that when it’s dark, it’s not play time.
  • If possible, rest when baby sleeps and remember this period doesn’t last forever.
Sensory learners

Babies are gathering ‘data’ from what they see, hear, smell, touch and taste. These sensory messages cause their brain cells to connect into neural pathways. Through repetition, the pathways become stronger and more permanent.

They’re developing the ability to turn their head in the direction of a sound, and they’ll be learning to recognise voices of close whānau members. By 6 months old they’ll turn and locate what — or who — is talking or making sounds.

As their vision develops, they can see further and focus for longer. By around 2 months they’ll ‘track’ an object moving slowly across their field of vision. By about 3 months, they’ll use their hands and eyes together to bat at objects and by 4–5 months will be reaching, grasping and bringing things to their mouth. They’ll also be seeing colours and in 3D.

  • Stimulate baby’s senses, move an object slowly for baby to follow with their eyes.
  • Hang or hold an item up for baby to practise focusing on and bat at.
  • Offer a container to baby, with a selection of safe objects of varied colour, texture and shape for them to explore with their senses. Remember they will put everything into their mouth, so avoid any small, sharp, pointy and breakable items.
  • Take baby outdoors so they can experience the natural world.
  • Talk to baby in the language that they speak best. Understand that baby has the capacity to learn all languages in the world, so long as they hear them spoken regularly.
  • Use ‘parentese’ in whatever languages the whānau speaks.
  • Talk and sing to baby often to help them absorb the sounds of language.
  • Call to baby from different places in the room, to help them practise locating the source of the sounds