No one knows better than a new parent just how exciting, nerve wracking and surreal it is to take your newborn home.
The journey ahead is unknown. You’ve no directions or map. But with every challenge comes reward, and the first giggle is worth its weight in gold.
Ngala practice consultant educator Kim Johnson advises what you can expect in the first three months.
What to expect and key milestones
As newborns, babies can recognise faces, familiar voices and gestures. Sometimes they even imitate them.
"Around six weeks, your baby will start turning towards your voice, and smile and coo in recognition of your face," says Johnson.
"He quickly learns you’re an important person and will start to follow you with his gaze. Around eight weeks he’ll listen to you, then ‘talk’ back with noises."
In the first two months, babies are attracted by bright lights, primary colours, stripes, dots and patterns.
By 12 weeks, your baby can hold his head up while on his tummy, wave a rattle and is starting to play with his fingers and squishy little toes.
What your baby loves
The human face is the first 'object' that your baby recognises and loves. So go ahead and gaze adoringly at him some more. Like you needed another excuse, right?
"Babies learn everything through the senses," says Johnson. "They love sensory interactions like cuddles, baby massage, parents singing and family members having a ‘chat’ with them."
Johnson says that babies get upset by very loud and sudden unfamiliar noises like screaming, angry shouting, banging and commotions.
Most babies sleep around 15 to 18 hours a day, mainly in sleep cycles (REM) of 15 to 20 minutes. During REM sleep, your baby’s brain works overtime, ordering and storing information.
Over time these sleeps will get longer, lasting up to three hours in a block.
When in deep non-REM sleep, babies lie quite still, breathe deeply and are difficult to wake. If woken, they may be upset or confused.
Around four months, babies begin to know the difference between day and night.
To avoid a cranky baby, Johnson says it’s important to recognise tired signs, including yawning, facial grimacing, clenched fists and grizzling.
Massage, rocking the cot, singing a lullaby or patting can all help soothe your baby.
“Try to avoid overstimulating a tired baby by shaking rattles or toys in front of him or talking and making lots of eye contact,” says Johnson. “It’s more difficult to settle an overtired baby.”
Your baby’s cries tug on your heartstrings, especially when you’re learning the ropes. But crying is normal communication for babies and signals hunger, tiredness, discomfort or pain.
“Always respond with a warm soothing voice and gentle stroking,” says Johnson. “If crying escalates, pick-up and hold upright against your shoulders and pat gently.”
Observe your baby’s body language and listen to the cries to decide the best response. If your baby simply needs settling, a change of scenery, rhythmic sways or singing can help. Walking outside can also benefit you. Cries never feel as loud or stressful outside.
“If crying sounds urgent and shrill, and your baby is frowning and back arching, it may indicate pain,” says Johnson.
“If you’ve tried everything, simply hold the baby until he calms. If you’re still concerned, seek professional help.”
Playing with your baby is important for brain development and learning, and opens up a world of fun.
“In the early weeks, ‘chatting’ to your baby and touching his hands, feet, arms and legs are all part of play,” says Johnson.
She notes that play can be simply about talking, singing, feeling textures and making different sounds. Books, mirrors, peekaboo and balls are all fun, as are rattles and mobiles when your baby can grasp, and his vision is improving.
Remember that babies don’t need expensive toys. A box, safety mirror or Tupperware container will all suffice.
To avoid overstimulation, Johnson advises following your baby’s cues. “If he disengages, turns away or grizzles, he’s likely tired and had enough,” she says.
There’s help if you need it
If you need reassurance or advice, call Ngala’s Parenting Line on 9368 9368 or attend an early parenting group at various centres across the Perth metro area.
With a referral to the day stay service, Ngala can offer hands on support with feeding and settling your baby.
Visit ngala.com.au for more information or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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