Baby's First Year: Weeks 24-27
Breastfeeding at 6 months
If you are still nursing your baby, congratulations! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies be only breastfed for approximately the first six months and that nursing continue to the first year and beyond as long as both mother and baby wish. (the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to age 2 and beyond.)
Breastfed babies have a different growth pattern from formula-fed babies, and you may find that your baby's growth slows down at around 6 months. Many infant growth charts are based on combined averages of breastfed and formula-fed babies.
So if your baby's chart shows a slowing down at this age, discuss with your pediatrician the possibility that her growth may be normal for a breastfed baby. The Centers for Disease Control is currently developing a growth chart reference for exclusively breastfed babies.
Ready to eat?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for approximately the first six months of your baby's life and nursing continue to the first year and beyond as both mother and baby wish. If you have any question about your baby's readiness to eat solid foods, ask your pediatrician.
If you are breastfeeding, nurse your baby before giving him a meal of solid food to be sure that your milk supply is stimulated for as long as you wish to continue nursing. Breast milk and formula are still the staples of your baby's diet. Solid food is mostly good for practice!
Your baby is due for his third set of immunizations this month, as well as his 6-month checkup with your pediatrician.
Eating well and exercising can be a challenge for anyone, but parents of small children may find it especially tricky.
A recent study looked at 1,520 young adults from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, including parents of kids under 5 and nonparents. The mothers of small children reported eating more calories and saturated fat and drinking more sugary beverages than women without children. Both moms and dads reported lower levels of moderate-to-vigorous activity, compared with people who had no kids.
Caring for young children is time consuming and often stressful, leaving parents less time and energy to exercise and eat well - but aiming for healthy habits not only benefits parents, it models healthy behaviors for their children.
Between 6 and 10 months of age, your baby will begin to respond to his name, turning his head when you call it, or smiling when you whisper it.
Encourage him to learn his name by adding it to the songs you sing to him and the conversations you have with him. He also understands some of the other words you say and will learn more as you hold and name objects. He's ready to explore some simple concepts, such as "soft" and "round," if you give him these words while he holds or touches an object. Look for sturdy board books that include cloth and other interesting textures on their pages for babies to touch and explore.
Thoughts before words
Babies can understand concepts long before they can use words to describe them. You can observe your baby learning new concepts.
Put a new object in front of your baby, something she has never seen before. Does she stare at it, studying it? If you take it away, wait a few minutes, and then put it back in front of her. Is she still interested in it or does she look away, ready for something new?
Even very young babies are always learning, sponging up new experiences and knowledge. And if we watch closely, we can see this amazing process taking place every day.
There's no end to the kinds of equipment that make the job of parenting easier. Some do help, some don't, and a few are downright dangerous.
Mechanical swings with a seat in which you can safely strap your baby can be soothing and allow you a few hands-free moments. If you buy one, make sure it is safety-approved and is a model that stands firmly on the floor, rather than one that hangs from a doorframe. Try not to use it - or any substitute for your arms and attention- for more than half an hour, twice-a-day.
Playpens are useful for parents of crawling babies. While your baby needs to explore his world and should not be in a playpen all day, it is a good idea to have a protected place, away from siblings, pets and household dangers, where he can play safely when necessary.
Baby "walkers," which let a baby move around in an upright position before he has even learned to crawl, are neither safe nor helpful. They develop the wrong muscles at the wrong time and don't allow your baby to learn from crawling. In fact, "walkers" can actually delay real walking. They also pose serious safety hazards as they can tip over, fall down stairs and allow babies to reach objects they otherwise could not.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges parents not to use walkers. Baby "rockers" that let babies sit in a seat surrounded by a surface with interesting objects, but do not allow them to move across the floor with their feet, are fine. If you have one, also be sure to give your baby plenty of stomach time so that she'll push up and develop the gross motor skills she'll need to learn to crawl.
Cups and spoons
Most 6 month olds love to try to feed themselves. He'll want to learn to use a spoon, feeding himself the way he sees you eat. He may even try to grab the spoon out of your hand as you feed him baby food. If he does, let him have his own spoon to hold and imitate you, or bang the table, while you hold yours.
You can also let him also try a cup of water or juice once in a while. Six months is a good time to start to learn to drink this way. Put in just a sip, because the first thing he'll do is turn the cup upside down and bang it on the table. A covered sippy cup will prevent spills and is convenient to bring along when you and baby are out of the house. Sippy cups don't teach the same skill as a regular cup, though, because they allow a baby to drink by sucking.
While bottles are handy, a 2006 study found that children who drink milk from a bottle past the age of 1 year are more likely to have low iron levels (anemia) than children who drink milk from a cup. The reason may be that children who drink from bottles are taking in too much milk and not enough iron-rich foods. While your baby is too young for cow's milk, limiting the role a bottle plays now will help him to eat a range of foods as he grows. Because sippy cups allow a baby to drink by sucking, they also have the same concerns.
TV for babies?
While babies may like the sights and sounds of a TV, research strongly suggests that watching TV is not healthy for children under the age of 2. A recent study showed that infants learn about emotions based on what they hear from others. This includes not just their parents' pleasant talk but also the actors' argument on TV. While there are still questions about the impact of television viewing on babies, the evidence is growing that it may interfere with healthy development. Interacting with you and exploring safe toys are far better uses of a baby's waking hours.