Infant development: Birth to 3 months
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Feb 10, 2023.
A lot happens during your baby's first three months. Most babies reach certain milestones at similar ages, but infants take their own path as they develop. Expect your baby to grow and develop at your baby's own pace. Keep in mind that a baby born early, also called premature, may have a delay in some milestones. As you get to know your baby, think about these general infant development milestones.
What to expect
At first, caring for your baby might feel like an endless cycle of feeding, diapering and soothing. But soon, signs of your baby's growth and development will appear.
- Motor skills. Your newborn's movements will probably be jerky at first. But over the next two months, most babies start to control movements. Your newborn's neck will get stronger during this time too. By two months when you hold your baby, your baby should be able to support the head on their own. By the end of month three, most babies can lift the head and chest, supported by the elbows, while lying on the tummy. Babies also discover the hands during this time. A baby's hands will open and shut, and by month three babies can grab toys and bring them to the mouth.
- Hearing. Newborns can hear but they don't understand what the sounds mean. As a 1-month-old, babies start to know familiar sounds and may show it by turning the head. By 3 months old, your baby may respond to these sounds with excitement. Or your baby may quiet to listen to your voice.
- Vision. In the first three months babies pay most attention to faces. Over this time your baby likely will gain the ability to follow an object as it moves in front of the eyes. Gradually babies are able to focus on objects farther away. At around 2 months old, babies may begin to smile when others smile at them. By the end of month three, your baby should make eye contact. Your baby also may begin to tell colors apart.
- Communication. Babies take in information such as their caregivers' body language, expressions and how they're held. But the way new babies communicate their needs is mostly by crying. By age 2 months, your baby might coo and repeat vowel sounds when you talk or gently play together. And in the next month, your baby may start testing out other sounds, such as squeaks, growling or blowing raspberries. Your baby may imitate sounds and smile at the sound of your voice.
Promoting your baby's development
Your relationship with your child is the foundation of your baby's development. Trust your ability to meet your baby's needs.
One important thing you can do for your baby is to take care of yourself. Some new caregivers find themselves on an emotional roller coaster in the first month. That's common. It can help to make sure you are sleeping when you can. It also helps to continue to do things you enjoy. And ask for help with chores or the baby. But talk to your health care provider if you find yourself feeling severely sad or feel sad for more than a few weeks.
To help your baby's development in general:
- Hold your baby. Skin-to-skin contact helps your baby's brain development. Holding your baby can help your newborn feel safe, secure and loved. Let your baby grasp your little finger and touch your face.
- Speak freely. When your baby looks at you, make eye contact. Talk to your baby and change your expression and tone of voice. Simple conversation lays the groundwork for language development. Sing. Read a story out loud. React to your baby's coos and gurgles.
- Keep it interesting. Give your baby toys with different textures or bold patterns. With you paying close attention, place your baby on the tummy to play. Make an interesting noise to encourage your baby to pick up the head. Many newborns get fussy or upset when on their tummies, and that's OK. Keep these sessions brief at first. But keep trying it. If your baby gets tired, put your baby on the back to sleep.
- But not too interesting. Everything is new for a baby. As they learn, babies can get overloaded on new experiences. Crying can be a way for babies to let you know they need some downtime. Babies who turn away or arch their backs also may be letting you know their senses are overloaded, also called overstimulated.
- React quickly to tears. For most newborns, crying peaks about six weeks after birth and then gradually declines. React quickly when your baby is crying. You won't spoil your baby with too much attention. Your care helps build a strong bond with your baby. It is the basis for the confidence your baby needs to settle down without your help one day. But crying also can be a baby's way of managing feelings. There may be nothing you can do but be there. So while crying is hard to hear, don't take your baby's cries as a failure of caregiving.
When something's not right
Your baby might reach some developmental milestones ahead of schedule and lag behind on others. This is common. But it's a good idea to know some warning signs of a developmental delay. Talk to your baby's health care provider if you notice any of these red flags:
- Trouble feeding.
- Doesn't react to loud sounds.
- Doesn't follow moving objects with the eyes.
- Seems stiff and rarely moves arms or legs, or the arms or legs are very floppy.
Remember that every baby is unique. But your instincts are important too. If your gut tells you to call your baby's health care provider, do it. The earlier a problem is found, the earlier it can be treated.