Baby's First Year: Weeks 40-43
Feeding your baby
Your baby probably can pick up small objects between her thumb and forefinger now and still puts them straight into her mouth. While this means that you'll need to keep potentially dangerous small objects out of her reach, it also means that mealtime can become easier and more fun for both of you. Offer your baby a selection of food, cut up into pinchable bits, and let her feed herself. Meals will become a fun learning experience for her and you will have your hands free to feed yourself for the first time in months. Lightly steamed vegetables, fruit, rice, bits of bread and pieces of cheese and meat all make appealing finger foods for older babies. She'll eat until her appetite is satisfied; let her stop when she loses interest.
While mealtime will be messy for the next year or so, try not to worry about table manners just yet. Allowing her to hold and play with a spoon now will teach her to use it, eventually, with neatness and skill. Fill her sippy cup with water so that splashes won't matter so much. Plain water is better than sugary juice in any case.
Introducing the potty chair as a place to sit without your pants on is distinctly different than pressure to sit on the potty. Infants are great imitators; they will sit if parents do. It may be helpful to let them experience the potty chair before they have an "attitude" that many 2 year olds have. If a child sits and urinates, no cheering is needed, as this is not done for other family members.
While a box of toys is fun, a baby this age may enjoy the box as much as the toys. Clean, chemical-free household objects that do not have small parts to choke on are fascinating to babies. An empty paper towel tube, a crackly paper bag (never a plastic bag) or a cooking pot to bang on with a wooden spoon can amuse babies for long periods.
Look for safe objects in your home that will stimulate your baby's desire to learn about different textures, shapes and materials. Supervise all her playing, and keep a sharp eye out for unsafe objects that may be within her growing reach.
Did he say "Mama"?
Between 9 and 11 months old, many babies begin playing with sounds in earnest. Mixing consonant and vowel sounds, they string them together in long songs: "Ba-ba-ba-ba! Da-da-da! Ma-ma-ma!" Your enthusiastic response to "ma-ma" and "da-da" encourages her to repeat those sounds and eventually helps to give them meaning. "Bye-bye" is another sound babies this age quickly connect to meaning, along with a wave when saying goodbye.
Your baby's joy in making sounds with you means rhymes and word games (peek a boo and pat-a-cake) will be well received at this age. Traditional nursery rhymes such as "Hickory, Dickory, Dock" contain the bouncy sounds that babies love. Learn a few favorites by heart to say with your baby on your lap. This game will help him to hear and repeat the patterns of sound that make up language.
Two out of three children get an ear infection by the age of 3 years. Babies and preverbal toddlers may show their discomfort by being irritable, fussy and sleeping or eating poorly. An older baby or toddler may also pull on his earlobe.
Fever may be present. Ear infections are caused by bacteria or viruses in fluid in the middle ear behind the eardrum and tend to show up a week or so after a child has had a cold. The tiny passages in babies' and toddlers' ears do not drain as well as in older children and adults, and so fluid builds up and becomes infected more easily. Fluid without infection can cause mild discomfort but does not need to be treated with antibiotics.
You can lower the chance of your baby having ear infections in a few simple ways.
Breastfeeding can reduce the number of ear infections a child has, partly because of protective elements in breast milk and partly because the position a baby nurses in helps to drain the ear canal better than the position for feeding from a bottle.
Try to avoid giving your baby a bottle while she is lying down, as this position has been linked to more ear infections.
Living in the same house as someone who smokes can increase the number of ear infections. (If you or someone else in the family smokes, quitting will have many benefits, including protecting the health of young children under the same roof.)
Children with allergies are also more likely to have ear infections; remove the triggers to a child's allergies, whether mold, dust mites or anything else, to reduce the number of infections.
In addition, standard infant immunizations for H influenza and pneumococcus bacteria have decreased ear infections significantly.
If your baby has an earache, you can help him feel better with infant pain reliever until the fluid drains and the infection clears. (Be sure to read the dosing guidelines on the bottle carefully.) While studies have shown that 80 percent of ear infections clear up without treatment, suspected earaches should still be looked at by a doctor to rule out other causes and to prescribe antibiotics if appropriate.
Helping and stepping back
A baby's drive to learn sometimes brings tears when she can't manage to reach a goal she's set her sights on. Every parent knows the urge to step in and help a frustrated baby. Yet sometimes holding back and letting your baby work it out is more helpful over the long term.
Recent data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has found that two parental traits -warmth and what researchers term "low intrusiveness" - are linked to academic achievement in first grade.
Warmth, that is, showing affection and emotional support, is important to encourage a baby or toddler to explore, persist and learn. "Low intrusiveness," or letting a child play and to try to solve small problems on her own, also adds to cognitive growth. Sometimes being supportive means moving a desired toy within a baby's reach, rather than handing it to her.
And sometimes learning requires a moment of frustration. A study showed that anger was associated with active attempts to overcome an obstacle, while sadness was related to giving up. So, while it may be hard to watch, know that when your baby gets angry when she can't do what she wants, it's a healthy response.