1 To 3 Months
Touch: It helps a baby grow & prosper.
"All humans, especially babies, thrive on the power of touch," says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and author of Baby 411 (Windsor Peak Press). "Touch is comforting and soothing: Just look at how babies can sleep on a parent's chest with no problem, yet cry as soon as you put them into a crib." Touch even promotes physical growth and development, so much so that premature infants are often given "kangaroo care"—skin-to-skin contact that has been shown to help them sleep longer and breastfeed better.
The reason touch is so comforting is that it simulates the sheltered, warm environment babies were immersed in for nine months. According to Brown, an infant deprived of human touch and interaction may later have little expectation of being held or stimulated and will act withdrawn and reserved. "It's hard to say how much you should hold your baby," she remarks, "yet, what I can say is that you can't spoil a newborn by touching or holding him too much."
Babies who don't want to be touched warrant an evaluation by a pediatrician. "It doesn't mean that every baby who doesn't like to be touched has a disorder," Brown says. "But autistic children, for example, may not be soothed by touching and, in fact, may be bothered by it."
4 To 8 Months
Small Talk: Making sounds & babbling usher in speech.
Your baby has no doubt been "vocal" from day 1, but until approximately 4 to 6 months her sounds have mostly consisted of crying and laughing. At about 3 months, babies usually
realize there is a cause-and-effect relationship between their cries and their parents or caregivers doing something for them and will sometimes cry for attention, notes Tanya Remar Altmann, M.D., editor in chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics' The Wonder Years (Bantam Books) and a pediatrician in Westlake Village, Calif.
"Then, starting at 3 to 4 months, babies will make squealing and growling sounds and blow raspberries, usually when they are happy," Altmann says. "At about 6 months they begin making sounds parents recognize, [consonants] like m-m-m-m, d-d-d-d-d—early babbling."
At around 6 months or so, babies begin to exhibit other types of communication as well. "They will wave their arms and legs when they laugh and smile, and start clapping when they get excited. Along with the movements, they coo and make other vowel sounds when they are content," Altmann adds.
To help your baby develop the skills she'll need for actual speech, read and talk to her starting from birth. "Babies often make sounds in response to parents' voices," says Altmann.