The First Six Months: Big Changes - Month Three
This article covers the following topics: The Third Month: Big Hands, Handy Hands, Reach out and grab someone, Opening Baby's Hands, Holding power, A Posture Tip For Stimulating Hand Play, Baby's Visual Development Shines, Three-Month Talk, Communicative cries, Vocalizing increases, Three-Month Moves, Stand and lean, Floor play, Learning cause and effect, A Three-Month Review, Safety Tips, Flat Head,. There will be three more parts to this article, be sure to keep an eye out for them.
The Third Month: Big Hands
"My three-month-old is so inviting," exclaimed one mother. "Mine seems so responsive," said another. "I just love the way he waves his arms at me," added another mother. The third month is a fun period for both baby and parents. Your baby is more alert, active, organized and responsive. Communication is better by the third month because both parents and baby have become comfortable with each other's cues. For these reasons, parents often describe the third month as easier.
Those adorable little hands. How often you've played with them, prying open tightly curled fingers and rubbing the soft palms over your face. Now baby can play with his own hands. The beginning of hand play is the most note-worthy feature of the third month. The previously clenched fists unfold, and the hands remain half-open most of the time.
At this stage babies realize their hands are familiar and easily accessible toys and, most important, part of themselves. Watch baby play with his hands in front of his face. He may explore one hand with the other, sometimes holding the whole fist, other times grabbing just one or two fingers. Of course, these curious hands find their way to their familiar target, the mouth, as baby delights in fist and finger sucking. These are baby's first tools, and now he begins to use them.
Reach out and grab someone.
The first reaches are not very defined either. When trying to reach and grab a dangling toy, the arm movements are still short, boxer like karate chops, swiping and still often missing. Next month he'll be more on target.
* The lighter the rattle and the easier it is to grip, the longer your baby will hold it.
A Posture Tip For Stimulating Hand Play
The position of baby's body influences hand skills. The horizontal position hinders hand play; the upright posture stimulates it. When lying flat on the floor, baby will be more interested in freestyle cycling her hands and feet and stretching them out from her body. Also, when baby is lying on her back, the tonic neck reflex causes her head to turn to one side and her arm to dart out on that side and her hands to stay closed. Instead of lying flat, baby should be in a semi-upright position in your arms or in an infant seat. As you raise your bay to a semi-upright position, notice that her head faces forward and she looks toward a person or toy instead of to one side, and her hands and arms toy open and inviting as if she is flirting with you or the toy. Semi-upright posture encourages the arms and hands to come together, stimulating baby to play with her hands or with toys in front of her.
Baby's Visual Development Shines
Watch your baby's eyes fix on an interesting floral pattern on the furniture or wallpaper, or on the ever-favorite face. Notice how she now studies these patterns longer, paying more attention to the detail instead of momentarily scanning them, as in the previous month.
Tracking also matures. Observe your baby holding a visual fix, tracking you, radar like, as you walk by her and leave the room. She may cry as you depart. Besides seeing better at this stage, babies see farther. When in the quiet alert state, baby may gaze at ceiling fans, light and dark contrasting ceiling beams, shadows on the wall, or plants on a ledge fifteen to twenty feet (five to six meters) away. Dark contrasting objects on light walls are the most appealing.
Note: You can keep your baby's attention by holding a black-and-white six-faced cube about two feet in front of his eyes. He can be riveted to the "moving picture" for at least five minutes. He studies each side at is slowly rotates and appears to discern the design difference on each side. Sometimes as baby starts to fuss, pop out the cube and he will stop fussing.
Here's when the real conversations begin. One reason you may find this stage easier is that you are able to read your three-month-old. Watch your baby's facial and body language and try to guess what he is thinking by the way he is acting. By reading baby's mouth and facial language you can often tell what emotion is soon to follow -- is he going to cry or smile? By quickly intervening with "Hi, baby (name)!" you can often divert a cry to a smile. Seeing your happy face makes baby forget to fuss.
Since it is safest for babies to sleep on their backs. provide baby with some daily tummy time and tummy talk to help strengthen his head-lifting muscles. Place your baby tummy down on a padded surface on the table or the floor. Get down to his level. Lock in the eye-to-eye fix and begin talking. Baby may raise his head forty-five degrees or more and carry on a head-to-head visual conversation. Instead of quickly plopping his head down as he did last month, baby ma hold his head up for a while and begin searching by rotating his head from side to side.
Next game. Roll baby over on his back (most babies cannot net roll over themselves), hold both hands, and gradually pull baby to a sitting position. Head and trunk lift together. Notice how much less now than last month baby's head lags behind his body. When held sitting, baby begins to hold his previously wobbly head steady. The unsupported head may still tire and quickly sag. but baby can now regain control of the droopy head and resume holding it erect.
Stand and lean.
Learning cause and effect.
As baby stores these cause-and-effect patterns of behavior in his developing brain, he begins to make adjustments in these patterns to improve their outcome. For example, by this time your baby has learned to suck in such a way that he gets the milk most efficiently.
As baby becomes brighter and you become more observant, you both are well on your way to growing together.
A Three-Month Review
The first three months were the fitting-in period. You and your baby were getting used to each other. Your regular sleep and feeding patterns were organized into whatever routine worked for your family life-style and the needs of your baby. By trial and error you developed a parenting style that worked. And whatever career juggling needed to b=e done, you did.
By the end of this first stage, baby has learned two fundamental lessons: organization and trust. The fussy period of learning to fit into life outside the womb has subsided (somewhat), and baby knows to whom he belongs. Because his needs have been consistently responded to, he has developed the most powerful infant development stimulator: trust. Based upon an inner feeling of rightness, baby wastes less energy fussing and now diverts this energy into developing skills -- called baby competence. Because his cues have been read, he values himself -- the beginning of baby's self-esteem.
You have graduated from novice to veteran at reading and responding to your baby's cues. You understand your baby's language, primitive though it may be. Perhaps life with a new baby has not been all rosy -- it never is. But at least by this stage you feel more comfortable in the two R's of parenting: reading your baby's cues and responding in a way that works -- at least most of the time. It is normal for you to feel a bit shaky in these two skills. But if you and your baby are still strangers, it's time to take inventory of your parenting style. Is your nest too busy or cluttered with nonbaby things? Consult parents who seem to be in harmony with their babies. The earlier you and your baby begin growing together, the more you'll enjoy parenting during the next stage.
* By three months babies can scoot, wiggle, and roll. Never leave a baby unattended on a changing table or in an infant seat on a countertop, even for a second. Use the safety belt in the infant seat and place the seat only on a carpeted floor.
* Use a guardrail or cushions alongside baby is she is in your bed. Never leave baby unattended on a couch or any other piece of furniture that she can roll off.
During the second or third month of life, some babies begin to develop a flat area on the back of the head. This is called positional plagiocephaly, and it typically occurs either on one side or directly in the middle of the back of the head when a baby spends too much time sleeping with the head in one position. You can easily see this asymmetry by viewing your baby's head from the top. As baby develops a flat spot, it become more comfortable for him to continue sleeping with his head resting on the flat areas. This preference only makes the problem worse. You can prevent this by rotating your baby's sleep position (always keeping baby on his back or side). If your baby develops a flat spot, use a wedge or rolled-up blanket to prop baby on his side so that the nonfat part of his head rests on the bed. For example, if the left side of baby's head gets flat, prop him on his side facing to his right. During the day when you put baby down to play, place him so all the action is on the side opposite his flat spot. A few months of this position change should straighten out the problem. Do not worry. This flat area is purely a cosmetic issue and has effect on the baby's brain growth. There is an extremely rare condition in which the skull bones don't expand as baby's brain grows, creating an asymmetric skill. Be sure your doctor examines baby's skull carefully to make sure this not the case. Severe cases of positional plagiocephaly can be treated using a pressure helmet, which slowly molds baby's head back into shape. These are expensive and rarely necessary.
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