| Fertility

The Miracle Months; A month-to-month guide to your baby's development

She will enter her first year as a helpless newborn and leave it as a babbling toddler, in confident command of the world around her. In the months between, your baby will undertake a series of transformations that can truly be described as miraculous.

Use these milestones as a guide to what changes to expect during your baby's first year of life. But remember that every baby develops at a different pace, and a perfectly healthy child may achieve a particular milestone later than average.

Kathryn Barnard, R.N., Ph.D., director of the Center on Infant Mental Health and Development at the University of Washington, underscores this, saying "Except for extreme delays, the age at which your baby achieves these developmental milestones has little or no impact on how he will turn out."

1 month

Your newborn spends most of his first weeks eating, sleeping and gazing at his new environment. Most of his movements are reflexes that will disappear over the coming weeks and months. These include "rooting" for the nipple that provides his food, throwing his arms out and back together when startled, and marching his legs when held in a standing position.

His kicks and thrusts will at first be very jerky, but as his nervous system matures and he gains muscle control, they'll become much smoother and stronger. And though his hands remain mostly in tight fists, he will now be able to bring them to his mouth.

Your baby's vision undergoes important changes in the first month of life. He'll learn to track objects briefly, and though he sees best from a distance of 8 to 12 inches, he may be able to focus briefly on things as far away as 3 feet. He's getting better at seeing and recognizing patterns and is particularly drawn to those that are high contrast. His favorite pattern to study is the human face, so keep yours close as often as possible.

Your baby hears very well at one month and will pay close attention to human voices. When you talk to him, he'll likely turn his head to search for your voice.

2 and 3 months

Your baby's muscle strength is increasing, and by the end of her third month she will be able to hold her head and chest up while supporting herself on her elbows. Her kicks will be stronger too, and by the end of month three she might have managed to kick herself over, probably from front to back. (Many babies won't roll the opposite direction until about month six).

She is fascinated by her hands and what they can now accomplish. By the end of this period, she can probably open and shut them, bring them to her mouth, swipe at dangling objects, and shake a rattle.

Around the 6- or 8-week mark, a huge event occurs for you and your baby: her first genuine smile. Soon your baby will begin squealing in delight and trying to imitate the sounds and facial expressions you make. You may even hear the beginnings of babbling!

4 and 5 months

Your baby can now lift his upper body, supporting himself on his hands. If it didn't happen last month, this will almost certainly be the time when practice pays off and he rolls himself over.

During the fifth month, your baby will likely acquire the strength to keep his head level with his body (rather than flopping backward) when he's pulled into a sitting position. Once sitting, he can keep himself upright, although he will probably still need to lean on his hands or a pillow for support. From a sitting position, he will reach for interesting objects and use his hands and mouth to explore their size, shape and texture.

6 and 7 months

Your baby can now sit without support, leaving her hands free to reach for and grab everything in sight. With her improved hand coordination, she can now transfer toys from one palm to the other, twist them and turn them from side to side.

She is also making some important cognitive leaps. She may respond to her own name now, as well as the word "no." She's actively experimenting with cause and effect, shaking rattles to hear the noises they make and dropping things to watch them fall.

Another major new discovery is object permanence, the concept that people and things still exist when they're out of sight. Now if you remove a toy your baby was playing with, she may protest or even search for it.

8 and 9 months

Your baby now gets up on his hands and knees. Once there, he may only rock back and forth or push backward, but sometime between 7 and 10 months, he will probably master the crawl. Fine motor control is also improving, and he can now pick up very small objects using his thumb and forefinger in a "pincer grasp."

He pays increasing attention to speech and now comprehends a whole lot more than you likely suspect. Though he probably has no actual words in his vocabulary, the coos and gurgles of his earlier months are giving way to recognizable syllables like "ba," "da," "ma" and "ga."

Now that your baby understands you're still somewhere even when you're out of sight, he may react with distress and clinginess when you leave. As Dr. Barnard puts it, "The baby has learned that when you are there she will be all right, so it is natural to feel less secure when you are not around." This is the beginning of separation anxiety, and it's healthy and normal in babies of this age, usually fading in the last half of their second year. New fears of strangers, the dark and loud appliances are also common.

10-12 months

Your once stationary little newborn is now pulling up to standing, "cruising" along the furniture and dancing to her favorite music. Many children take their first solo steps around their first birthday, although it's normal to walk months earlier or later.

Your baby loves testing your responses to her actions -- for instance, dropping food from her high chair to see how you react. She knows things have names and functions and is beginning to use objects correctly. You'll want the video camera ready when she first attempts to run a brush through her hair or hold the phone to her ear.

She's increasingly communicative and may now shake her head "no," clap, wave "bye-bye" and stretch out her arms to be picked up. She also babbles with conversational inflection, tries to imitate words and may even say a few specific words, such as "mama" and "dada."

She's also developing her independence, and don't be surprised if you see a new stubborn streak emerging. Says Dr. Barnard, "Realizing she can do things herself is a great thing. Independence helps children discover they are competent and don't always need your assistance."

Building skills and having fun

Your baby will enjoy different objects and activities as he changes month to month. Here are some ways to have fun while nurturing his mental and physical development.

1 month

Lots of cuddling and swaddling will help your baby feel safe and secure. Talk to him often, even if you're just recounting the mundane rituals of the day, and address him by name. The high-pitched, exaggerated "baby talk" you probably use intuitively is perfect for capturing his attention. To nurture his visual development, show him simple objects or patterns in bright colors or black and white.

2 and 3 months

Give baby time on her tummy each day, but expect that she'll only last a short while before getting tired. "Gyms" with dangling objects will fascinate her and might even give you a few moments to yourself. Play music and sing to her -- whatever the quality of your singing voice, she is sure to adore it.

4 and 5 months

Give baby lots of opportunities to practice sitting, putting tempting objects within arms' reach. But be sure to keep cushions around in case he loses balance. Diaper changes can be great opportunities for quality time, but beware of the roller your baby is becoming and never leave him unattended on the changing table. It's also more important than ever to make sure no choking hazards are within reach, including removable small parts of toys.

6 and 7 months

Introduce your baby to new sights and sounds and name each one aloud for her. Read to her and let her stroke the fuzzy sheep and push the squeaky ball. But don't be surprised if you rarely make it to the last page before the book ends up in her mouth or tossed aside.

Mirrors are a source of endless fascination for babies of this age, though they won't begin to recognize themselves for another couple of months. Hiding games and peek-a-boo are interactive and fun and help reinforce the concept of object permanence.

8 and 9 months

By now you've probably discovered that your baby will pass over all the fabulous toys in his possession in favor of the most mundane household objects. Plastic containers, pots and cooking utensils make great playthings, and your baby will love rooting through cabinets and removing and replacing the contents of drawers. Baby-proofing your home is essential now if you haven't undertaken it already. To encourage crawling, try placing tempting objects just out of baby's reach. Encourage his fine motor skills by giving him cereal and other safe finger foods. He may also enjoy practicing self-feeding with a fork and spoon.

10-12 months

Sturdy wagons or push cars are great for practicing walking. Blocks and cups to stack and knock down, as well as toys with moving parts, will help baby test her ability to make things happen. Stimulate her communication skills by giving her opportunities to converse. Ask questions and wait for her to answer; respond to her babbling as though she were speaking (she is, in her own way). Give her opportunities to feel independent, like turning the pages of her book or trying to put the lid on her lunch container. It takes patience on your part, but it will pay off in the happiness and sense of accomplishment it gives her.

Allison Dworkin is a freelance writer/editor living in Seattle with two daughters, ages 4 1/2 and 2.

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