10 Ways to Support Your Baby's Development
All babies are born ready to learn. As children grow up, their experiences and relationships play a very important role in shaping their development. Research on early childhood development shows that the benefits of a strong start for young children contributes to their lifelong health and well-being.
1. Interact with your baby. When the baby laughs, cries, or seeks attention respond to him or her. This is how your baby learns to communicate. Your facial expressions are fascinating to your baby - as he or she grows she will begin to mimic the faces that you make and will try to illicit smiles and laughs from you. This type of back and forth interaction is key to your baby's emotional and social development. Never feel that you are overindulging your baby - you cannot spoil a baby with love!
2. Talk to your baby. Don't worry that he or she doesn't understand you - this is how babies learn language. Talk about things while you are doing them, and about the things that you see while you are in your neighbourhood. Try putting your babies wants into words. For instance, if your baby reaches for a toy you could say, "You want your toy". By the time babies are 6 months old, many will begin to imitate sounds and babble.
3. Hold your baby often. Babies who are held more are healthier and happier than babies who are not held often. Try holding your baby while you dance to quiet music, or carry your baby with you in a sling while you go about your day. When your baby is held a lot, this helps him or her feels safe, secure, and loved and is critical to the bonding process.
4. Play with your baby. Playing with your baby can be as simple as making faces and back-and-forth silly talk and games. For instance if you stick out your tongue, your baby may try to copy you. You can also help your baby learn about objects and develop sensory skills by giving your baby safe, colourful objects that make sounds or are interesting to touch. Toys such as rattles, keys on a ring, stuffed animals, or squeeze toys are often interesting toys for young babies. Letting your baby play with objects helps them develop their vision, hearing, touch, hand/eye coordination, motor skills, and general understanding of the world around them. As your baby grows, try games like Peek-a-boo, begin sharing simple books, and let your baby begin exploring under your supervision. Encourage other family members to play with the baby too.
5. Respond to your baby when she or he cries. Babies often cry when they are hungry, tired, uncomfortable, or frustrated. Try to identify your baby's cry as many caregivers are able to identify their baby's need based on a particular crying sound. By responding quickly to your baby's cries, your baby will learn that the world is a predictable place and that he or she can trust you to care for him. Crying peaks around 6 to 8 weeks of age, and studies have shown that crying declines the most among babies whose caregivers consistenly respond to their crying by age one (Feigelman 2007).
6. Take care of yourself. Many parents feel stressed and overwhelmed at times by caring for their new babies. Ask a trusted family member or friend to care for your baby while you take some time for yourself. If you feel yourself becoming stressed, try one of these activities to help you relax: soak in the tub, listen to music, have a nap, take a walk outside, or do another activity that you enjoy. If you are feeling depressed after the birth of your baby and these feelings continue or feel debilitating, please contact your doctor or a public health nurse. Post Partum depression is a fairly common and treatable illnes that is estimated to affect from up to 20% of mothers following the birth of a child. If you are feeling overwhelmed to the point that you feel you are not able to care for your baby, call your doctor, a friend, a relative, or a parent hotline.
7. Establish a routine. By the time your baby is about 3 months old, he or she will likely have general sleeping and eating patterns. By planning a daily schedule, you will provide your baby (and yourself!) with a predictable schedule. Since everything in the world is new to a baby, it can be reassuring to know what to expect. A routine can also help reduce parental stress. Stay attuned to your baby's rhythms, and adapt your schedule to them, as many parents find that their baby's rhythms begin to change around 6 months of age.
8. Give your baby tummy time (with supervision). Tummy time is time for your baby to be put on his or her stomach. Tummy time helps babies learn movement, increase self-confidence, learn to crawl, roll over, and sit up, and to strengthen neck and stomach muscles. Let your baby have go on her tummy only while she is awake, for about 10 minutes two or three times a day. When your baby can lift and move her head, around 2 months, this is a sign that she is ready to begin having tummy time. A good way to start tummy time is by putting your baby on your chest so thatshe or he will be encouraged to lift their and to look at your face.
9. Breastfeed your baby. Health Canada recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for their first 6 months. By six months of age, most babies are ready to begin eating solids, but breastfeeding should continue. Babies benefit from the perfect nutrition that breastmilk provides, as well as from their closeness to mom during this time.
10. Wait to introduce pacifiers. Pacifiers can interfere with a baby's ability to learn how to breastfeed. If you are planning to breastfeed, wait until breastfeeding has been firmly established before giving your baby a pacifier. For more information from the Canadian Paediatric Society about use of pacifiers, click here.