Baby's First Year: Week 20-23
Hearing and making sounds
Babies begin listening to the sounds that surround them before birth. Researchers have shown when women in their last trimester of pregnancy read aloud a story, sing a song, or play a piece of music repeatedly, their babies are listening. After those babies are born, they will suck more quickly on a pacifier while listening to that same story or piece of music - a signal, say researchers, that these sounds are familiar.
Babies continue listening to the voices and sounds around them, responding by 3 or 4 months of age with their own delightful cooing. Even at this age, babies are skilled at the turn-taking of conversation. For example, a baby will nurse at the breast, then pause to gaze at his mother as she talks to him, and then nurse again. Researchers call these exchanges "proto-conversations."
Has your baby begun to play with sounds? Singing dadadada or mamamama and other babbles is a favorite activity among many 5 month olds and a valuable activity.
Researchers have seen that babies of 5 to 12 months open their mouths wider on the right side when babbling. Because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, this suggests that babbling is the first step toward language as it engages the left side of the brain where language is mostly controlled.
More evidence that babbling is a way of practicing language comes from a study of the hearing babies of deaf parents. Babies whose parents used sign language were found to move their hands differently from babies whose parents used spoken language. This indicates that babbling is an imitation of the language to which a baby is exposed. If that language is spoken with hands, then a baby will babble with his hands!
Over the next few months, your baby will work hard to learn to sit up. At first, he may sit with his hands supporting him in front. As he nears 6 and 7 months, and his back grows stronger, he will be able to sit more upright. Expect frequent topples, however, and be sure that the area where he is likely to fall is well padded and clear of hard toys.
Also, expect some frustration as he tries to reach for a toy while sitting, only to collapse onto his back or belly. Frustration is a necessary stage in learning, and it will spur him on from sitting to crawling to standing and walking over the exciting months of development still to come.
A baby's hands are his most important learning tool. While 4-month-old babies usually can pick up and hold toys and other objects, 5-month-old babies start to pass them back and forth from one hand to another. This is an important milestone in development as a baby learns to move both hands at the same time: opening one and closing the other.
Taking care of baby teeth
Parents should begin good dental care as soon as the first baby teeth emerge, usually between 4 and 8 months of age. Pediatric dentists advise parents to begin by rubbing a damp cloth across the gums and teeth after feeding to keep tooth surfaces free of the germs that cause cavities. As soon as teeth appear, make "brushing" a daily habit by adding it to your bedtime routine. Taking care of baby teeth is critical because healthy baby teeth are the basis for healthy permanent teeth.
The exploring baby
Your baby's ability to put things in his mouth has leaped forward this month from his fingers and fist to any object he can reach. He may be mouthing and chewing objects to relieve teething pain, but he is also exploring his world with his highly sensitive mouth. Each time he puts something in his mouth he learns what it tastes like, if it is soft, fuzzy, or hard and if it is warm or cold.
Give your baby lots of safe, clean toys to explore. Babies are able to fit surprisingly large objects into their mouths. To be safe, keep anything smaller than 4 inches across out of reach. Your baby will want to put everything in his mouth until his first birthday, when he begins to learn more through his hands and his eyes, and his mouth is reserved for eating and talking. Transitional objects (favorite Teddy bears or blankets) are fine if they are child-safe, without ribbons, loose buttons, or small parts that can cause choking, or fluffiness that can cause suffocation.
Establishing a bedtime routine
Is bedtime a struggle? A bedtime routine helps signal to your baby that it's time to go to bed and can make going to sleep - and staying asleep - more pleasant for you all.
- Begin introducing some kind of bedtime routine when your baby is around 3 to 6 months old. It can be as simple as reading a story and singing a lullaby - something that says that the day is over, and now it's time to sleep. A consistent routine - such as changing the diaper, wiping the gums and any emerging teeth, changing into sleeping clothes, turning the lights off or low before putting your baby into his crib - differentiates "going to sleep" from naps.
- At night, try not to let your baby fall asleep anywhere but in the crib, so that he knows the crib is for sleep and gets used to falling asleep there on his own.
- Choking is always a possibility with babies and you should know what to do if your child is choking. The best idea is to take a CPR course, and here is a video about helping a choking baby.
- If your baby wakes during the night, keep things as quiet and soothing as possible. If you haven't left a nightlight on, turn on a dim (15-watt) light. Keep feeding brief. Don't talk - just make soothing sounds so she knows you're not there to play. Make sure everything you'll need during the night is in one place so you don't have to carry her around while you search for a diaper or a wipe.
The milestones of the first 18 months often cause disruptions in babies' sleep patterns. Sometimes a baby cries in frustration as he tries to roll over or stand in his crib, disrupting any chance of going to sleep calmly afterward. For other babies, separation anxiety causes them to cry for you if they are left in their crib. Ultimately, keeping to consistent routines, especially during these periods of rapid growth, reassures your child and helps her learn to settle down and go to sleep.