Your baby's development
Your baby’s health and development reviews
It can sometimes be daunting to think about your baby’s developmental milestones. How do you know that things are going well? How can you encourage your baby’s development? And how will you know if they need extra support?
Remember that your health visitor is there to help you. Their role is to support the health and development of babies and children until they are 5 years old. You can talk to them about any questions or concerns you have. Find out more your health visitor’s role and how to contact them.
You’ll be offered regular health and development reviews for your baby until they are 2 and a half years old. These are usually done by a health visitor or someone in their team. Find out more about your baby’s check-ups.
The health visiting team will use your baby’s age to assess their growth and development in the first 2 and a half years. If your baby was born prematurely (before 37 weeks), you might find they reach certain milestones a bit later. Their milestones will be assessed from the time of their due date, not from when they were born.
Try not to compare your baby with other babies
It’s important to remember that every baby is different, so try not to compare your baby to others. Some babies sleep well, others don’t. Some babies seem very laid back, while others can be fussier. You and your baby are both learning how to communicate with others and your baby will develop their skills at their own pace.
But if you have any concerns about your baby’s development, don’t be afraid to speak to your health visitor or GP.
Your new baby’s appearance
As your baby is trying to get used to life in the outside world, it’s normal for them to develop minor physical conditions. We’ve listed some of the common things you may notice about your baby’s appearance in the first few days and weeks and what you can do about them.
Find out more about the first few weeks of your baby’s life.
Responsive parenting explores the theory that babies have a strong need to be close to their parents. This helps them feel secure and loved, which can help with their development.
It is not true that babies become spoilt or demanding if they are given too much attention.
They are also not capable of learning or fitting into a routine. Instead, babies thrive when their parents respond to their needs. A lot of parents worry that their baby will get so used to being held that it will become harder to settled them in the cot. But this is not true.
When babies feel secure, this releases a hormone called oxytocin, which not only makes them happy but also helps their brains grow and develop. Holding, smiling and talking to your baby also releases oxytocin in you, which will help your growing bond.
- keep your baby close to you so you can start to recognise the signals they make to tell you they are hungry or need a cuddle
- have skin-to-skin contact
- hold your baby close and look into their eyes if you are bottle feeding
- play with your baby (looking at your face is the best way for babies to learn)
- hold your baby when they are crying even if they don’t stop crying straight away – research shows that babies who are looked after in this way grow into more confident toddlers who are better able to deal with being away from their parents temporarily, rather than becoming clingy and spoilt.
Find out more about bonding with your baby.
Your baby’s weight
It's normal for babies to lose some weight in the first few days after birth. Putting on weight steadily after this is a sign your baby is healthy and feeding well.
Your baby will be weighed during their first 2 weeks to make sure they're regaining their birthweight. Most babies are at, or above, their birthweight by 2 weeks. Find out more about your baby’s weight check-ups.
Feeding your baby
Feeding can be a great time to get to know your baby and to bond with them. At the start, you’re going to be doing a lot of feeding. It’s important to feed your baby as and when they need it. Don’t wait for a scheduled time to feed them.
How can I tell if my baby is hungry?
Your baby will let you know when they are hungry with early feeding signs such as:
- getting restless
- sucking their fist or fingers
- making murmuring sounds
- turning their head and opening their mouth (known as rooting).
Crying can also be a sign of hunger. But looking out for these signs and feeding a baby before they cry is much easier than waiting until they are upset.
Find out more about feeding your baby.
Most newborn babies are asleep more than they are awake. Their total daily sleep varies, but can be from 8 hours up to 16 or 18 hours. As they become older, they will need to sleep less and will become more active.
Your newborn’s senses
Most babies are born with all 5 senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch), although some of these are not fully developed.
New babies can see, but their vision is not very focused. Their eyesight develops gradually over the first few months.
Your baby’s eyes should be checked as part of their newborn physical examination. But there are still a few things to look out for as their eyesight develops.
By the time your baby is 2 weeks old, you'll probably notice their eyes following your face. If they do not seem to be doing this, mention it to your health visitor or GP.
Your baby’s eyes may roll away from each other occasionally. This is called a squint and is normal in a newborn. It should go away by 3 months. But if this doesn’t happen, speak to your health visitor or GP.
Hearing is usually fully developed in newborns. Babies with normal hearing will startle in response to loud sounds. Your baby was able to recognise your voice during your pregnancy and will now pay attention to you when you talk to them.
Your baby should have a newborn hearing screening test before they are 3 months old.
Studies have found that newborns have a strong sense of smell. They can recognise their mother’s smell.
A baby’s sense of taste is very sensitive and they prefer sweet tastes over sour or bitter tastes. Breastmilk or first infant formula provide the energy and nutrients your baby needs until they're around 6 months old. At this point, you can start introducing different foods and flavours (weaning) alongside their milk.
If your baby was born prematurely, ask your health visitor or GP for advice on when to start weaning.
NHS has more information about weaning.
It's recommended that breastfed babies are given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms (µg) of vitamin D from birth, whether or not you're taking a supplement containing vitamin D yourself.
Babies who have 500mls (about a pint) or more of formula a day should not be given vitamin supplements. This is because formula is fortified with vitamin D and other nutrients.
NHS has more information about vitamins for children.
Babies are comforted by touch. Hold your baby close and try to have some skin-to-skin contact.
Your baby is born with certain reflexes, such as sucking and grabbing. During the first few days, they quickly learn to co-ordinate their sucking with their breathing so they can feed (although it can still take some time for parent and baby to learn how to breastfeed well).
Your newborn will be able to grasp your finger in the palm of their hand. This reflex will be at its strongest in the first 2 months of life.
There will also be a lot of kicking and wriggling. All these movements are spontaneous and can be a reaction to being stimulated by seeing something exciting. So be careful if they become interested in your hair or jewellery!
If your new baby is startled by a loud noise, a sudden movement, or feels like they’re falling, they may suddenly extend their arms and legs, arch their back, and then curl everything in again. Your baby may or may not cry when they do this.
This is an involuntary startle response called the Moro reflex. It’s something that newborn babies do and then stop doing within a couple of months.
Your baby’s doctor may check for this response during your baby’s newborn physical examination.
It will be a little while before your baby learns how to move their arms and legs properly. This is when your baby will start to co-ordinate their movements for a purpose, such as picking something up.
All babies cry. How much they cry is different for every baby. Crying is the main way your newborn baby can let you know that they need something. Try to respond to your baby as quickly as you can so they begin to understand that you’ll be there when they call out for you.
It’s not always easy to figure out what your baby needs or how you can soothe them. The most common reasons for crying are:
- a dirty or wet nappy
- wanting a cuddle
- being too hot or too cold
The amount babies cry usually peaks at about 7 weeks and after that it will gradually start to reduce.
There may be times of the day when your baby tends to cry more than others, and early evening is usually the most common time. This is sometimes called ‘the witching hour’.
“The witching hour started when our baby was about a month or so old. She’d start crying at around 7pm and wouldn’t stop for about an hour. We tried everything to calm her down. It was summertime, so we’d always end up taking her out for a walk to try and settle her. I’ll never forget a neighbour calling over his fence, asking me “Is it working?” No. No, it wasn’t!”
Crying during feeds can sometimes be a symptom of reflux. This is a common condition where babies bring back milk after feed. Reflux is very common and usually gets better on its own. It may help to hold your baby upright during feeding and for as long as possible after feeding. Ask your midwife, health visitor and GP for more advice.
Some babies cry because they have colic. This is when a baby cries a lot but there's no obvious cause. NHS has more information about colic.
Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP if you have any concerns about your baby’s crying.
Cry-sis is a UK charity that offers help and support to parents with babies who cry excessively or have sleeping problems. Their website has more information about coping with crying babies.
Crying and illness
If your baby is crying constantly and you can’t console or distract them, or the cry does not sound like their normal cry, it can be a sign that they are ill.
Or they may be ill if they're crying and have other symptoms, such as a high temperature. If this is the case or you’re generally worried, contact your health visitor or GP.
Expressions and baby noises
From a very early age, your baby will start trying to understand you. They will be interested in looking at your face and listening to your voice. By 7 or 8 weeks, your baby will be making cooing and simple sounds. They’ll also listen to what you say, then make noises back as they ‘talk’ to you.
Your baby may smile in the early weeks, which is probably them passing gas. But starting between 6 and 8 weeks, they’re probably giving you their first ‘proper’ smile.
You can encourage your baby’s development during the first few months by talking to them (try to vary your tone and pitch), singing and playing with them. Try to respond to your baby as much as possible. If they make noises or smile, do the same back to them. Spending this time with your baby is great for bonding and will help their speech develop.
When your baby is born, you will need to support their head carefully when you hold them, because their neck muscles are very weak. Gradually, these muscles become stronger. By 2 months, your baby may start lifting their head when lying on their back or facing forward when you place them on their tummy. Tummy time is a great way to help your baby’s developing muscles and you can start any time after her birth.
Tummy time just means putting your baby on their tummy to help strengthen their muscles. You can start doing this from birth by placing the baby on your chest, but make sure you are wide awake.
Do this little and often and gradually increase over time. When your baby is ready, you can start doing tummy time on the floor. Your baby may find it hard to lift their head at first. You can try putting a rolled-up towel under their armpits to help. To encourage your baby to look around, you can put some colourful objects around them.
Most babies start rolling over by 7 months, but some who develop earlier may start as early as 3 to 4 months.
There are some other things you can do to encourage your baby to start moving on their own, such as:
- laying them on their back and moving their legs to encourage them to kick
- encouraging different movements like grabbing, pushing, pulling using toys and interesting objects
- taking your baby outdoors to stimulate them with new surroundings
- taking your baby swimming.
Things to avoid
It is important that your baby does not spend a long time in reclining carriers or seats that prop them in a sitting position. This may mean that your baby will take longer to be able to sit up on their own. It is also best not to put your baby in a walker or bouncer for too long. These encourage them to stand on their tiptoes which can make it harder for them to start walking.
Try to limit the time your baby spends in these to 20 minutes at a time.
NHS. Your baby's health and development reviews https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/babys-development/height-weight-and-reviews/baby-reviews/ (Page last reviewed: 20 February 2020, Next review due: 20 February 2023)
The Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative (March 2019) Building a happy baby: a guide for parents. https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/04/happybaby_leaflet_web.pdf
NHS. Your baby's weight and height. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/babys-development/height-weight-and-reviews/baby-height-and-weight/(Page last reviewed: 24 February 2020, Next review due: 24 February 2023)
NHS. Breastfeeding: the first few days. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breastfeeding-first-days/ (Page last reviewed: 4 November 2019. Next review due: 4 November 2022)
NHS. Getting to know your newborn. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/after-the-birth/getting-to-know-your-newborn/ (Page last reviewed: 15 March 2021, Next review due: 15 March 2021)
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NHS. Your baby’s first solid goods. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/weaning-and-feeding/babys-first-solid-foods/ (Page last reviewed: 1 March 2019 Next review due: 1 March 2022)
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Edwards CW & Al Khalili Y. (2021) Moro Reflex.StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.
NHS. Soothing a crying baby. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/caring-for-a-newborn/soothing-a-crying-baby/ (Page last reviewed: 10 January 2019 Next review due: 10 January 2022)
NHS. Reflux in babies. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/reflux-in-babies/ (Page last reviewed: 18 February 2019 Next review due: 18 February 2022)
The Speech and Language Department in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group (2016) Speech and language development from birth to 12 months https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/procedures-and-treatments/speech-and-language-development-birth-12-months/
NHS Inform (September 2020) Your baby in the first 2 months. https://www.nhsinform.scot/ready-steady-baby/early-parenthood/getting-to-know-your-baby/your-baby-in-the-first-2-months
NHS Inform (August 2020) Your baby’s development from 2 to 12 month. https://www.nhsinform.scot/ready-steady-baby/early-parenthood/your-baby-s-development-from-2-to-12-months
NHS. How to keep your baby or toddler. active. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/babys-development/play-and-learning/keep-baby-or-toddler-active/ (Page last reviewed: 18 March 2020, Next review due: 18 March 2023)