During her first year out in the world, your baby’s development is both fascinating to watch and, at times, hard to keep up with. The following series will provide a handy guide to your baby’s first year including what challenges to expect, which key milestones to look out for, and more.
It is also important to be aware that every baby is different and unique, and some babies may reach certain milestones at earlier or later stages than others. If your baby was born prematurely, she may need a little more time before she can do the same as her peers and you should measure premature baby development against her corrected age, rather than her date of birth.
Your Newborn Baby
The first few weeks after the birth of your child are a huge period of adjustment – for you as well as your baby. There will be a lot of sleeping and feeding to start with as your baby will be trying to adjust to life outside the womb.
Feeding and sleeping
Sleep and milk are two of the most important things in your newborn baby’s life, along with lots of cuddles and comfort.
Your baby’s feeding pattern may feel relentless with countless feeds throughout the day, periods of cluster feeding for hours in the evening, as well as frequent night feeds. Breastfed babies also tend to feed more frequently, particularly at the start of your journey when they are trying to boost your milk supply.
Unfortunately for us parents, newborn babies have an erratic sleeping pattern. While she will spend more time asleep than awake – often clocking up 17 hours of sleep during a 24-hour period – this sleep will be broken up into short periods, with feeds and alert moments in between. This is normal and is important to ensure baby is taking in enough milk during their wakeful hours. In fact, it is very rare for babies to sleep for more than a few hours at a time through the night at this early stage as they have yet to work out the difference between night and day, and their internal clock has not yet synchronised with the 24-hour cycle to which we are accustomed.
The quiet and alert phase for newborn babies tends to be short, but the time when she is awake and not wanting for anything is a great time to interact with and talk to your baby.
Newborn babies cannot see very far – their eyes have a range of just 20-30cm – so it helps to bring your face nice and close to your baby’s when interacting. Babies are attracted to faces and features so will study your face and attempt to make eye contact. You may also notice your baby attempting to mimic your facial expressions during these early weeks, so try poking your tongue out at your little one and see what happens!
You may notice that your newborn baby is quite sensitive to bright light and is attracted to shiny and contrasting things such as reflections in the mirror and shadows on a plain wall.
There is a lot going on physically for your baby this month. Here is a round-up of what you can expect in the first four weeks.
A healthy newborn baby is expected to lose between 7% and 10% of their birth weight but should regain that weight within the first fortnight of her life. You will find a weight tracker chart in your little one’s red book which the health visitor will complete when you take your baby for regular weigh-ins.
To start with, your baby’s reactions will be reflexive and mostly involuntary while the brain and body communication channels develop. Key newborn reflexes include:
- Moro (or startle) – you may notice your baby throws her head or arms back suddenly in her sleep or in response to a loud noise or sudden movement. This reflex usually lasts until babies are 8 weeks old.
- Grasp – your baby will curl her fingers or toes around your finger in a tight clasp. This reflex lasts for around 5 to 6 months for the fingers and 9 to 12 months for the toes. Baby will continue to grasp after this time, but it will be a voluntary movement rather than a reflexive one.
- Rooting – when you touch or stroke near baby’s month, she will turn her head towards the stimulus and open her mouth in preparation for finding a breast or bottle to start feeding. This reflex lasts for around 4 months.
- Sucking – baby will suck instinctively when the roof of her mouth is touched, in order to feed successfully.
In the early days, your baby’s arms and legs may be curled into her body but will soon stretch out. She will also not be able to control her limbs to reach out and grasp objects voluntarily, so her arm and leg movements will be uncoordinated and jerky.
Your little one may be able to lift her head for short periods when lying on your chest, helping to strengthen those important neck muscles but her head will need support for some time yet.
The umbilical cord usually falls of in the second week and it is important to keep the area clean and dry to prevent infection. You can also fold over the top of her nappy to prevent any rubbing against the belly button and cord.
In the first few weeks, your baby may lose the hair they were born with due to hormonal changes. This is nothing to worry about as it will re-grow and you may even notice it grows back a different colour! Hormones are also to blame for some skin conditions in babies such as baby acne. While this may look sore, baby acne usually does not cause any pain for babies and it will generally clear up on its own after a couple of weeks. You can read more about baby acne here.
You will have noticed that your baby is more than capable of making herself heard and has been since day one. Crying is the only efficient way your baby has of communicating her needs, whether she is hungry, uncomfortable or needs some comfort. She will also be easily overstimulated by the world around her so keep your voice gentle and hold her close to provide comfort in unfamiliar environments.
Touch is a wonderful way to calm your baby as she will be comforted by the familiar – mum! Give her lots of cuddles, kisses, massages, and walks around the room in your arms. Skin-to-skin and breastfeeding are also wonderful ways to soothe your little one when she is unsettled.
If you notice your baby crying for hours at a time, over a period of two weeks or more and she seems extremely unsettled, she may be suffering with colic. You can read more about the symptoms and tips to ease colic here.
In the early weeks, your baby will be fascinated by your face and the room around her, so you do not need to splash out on lots of new toys right away.
Contrast is key for babies and they are drawn to black and white objects. You can buy some great books with high contrast images to show to your baby. Short periods of play are recommended at this stage to avoid over-stimulation. Signs such as looking away and fussing may indicate that your baby is becoming overwhelmed, and these cues will become easier to read as she grows and you get to know each other better.
Find out what to expect next month here.
Jen Dowding, Baby massage and baby yoga instructor, Basking Babies Laindon & Orsett