Healthy living

Child development 3–6 months

Your baby’s come a long way in their first 3 months. They’re probably now a very social being who loves being with you and having fun together.

By now, you’ve learned enough of their ways and messages to respond properly – most of the time. Hopefully, early problems such as feeding difficulties and crying, have settled down.

By 3 or 4 months, your baby is beginning to get an idea about being in the world, and you’re getting to know each other. They’ll be happily looking into your eyes, and you’ll be smiling at each other.

Social and emotional

Your baby can now ‘read’ some of your expressions. They’ll smile when you show you’re happy, and may look worried if you look cross or tired.

  • They have learnt that you are the person who usually comes when they need something, but they still don’t fully understand that you are a separate person.
  • They still have an idea that the whole of life is happening inside them and they are making all of it happen. The idea that you are completely separate from them, and can take yourself away from them, will not come until your baby is 7 months or older.
  • When you understand what they want and try to meet their needs, they feel that the world is safe and predictable, and good things come from inside them as well as from you. 
  • They are learning the important lesson that relationships are rewarding and that they are valuable. 
  • At this stage, because they get so much pleasure from smiling and interacting with you, they’re happy to smile and interact with strangers. 
  • Have ‘conversations’ with each other – they will get excited at the feeling of you responding to them, and kick her legs and wave their arms.
  • They will still easily become over stimulated, so take care – too much excitement and they may start to cry and need to be calmed down.

At 4 months your baby:

  • smiles a lot
  • laughs out loud and squeals with delight
  • shows they enjoy life by laughing and kicking their legs
  • likes people
  • is interested in the surroundings and activities going on around them
  • clearly shows enjoyment at things like being bathed and talked to.
Physical development

Your baby is starting to get some control over their body – even starting to realise that it is actually their body. 

They’ll spend time looking carefully at their hands, and touching and looking at their feet – what it feels like from the outside as well as the inside – and that it’s all attached. They will grasp at objects in front of them now – you’ll need to put stronger mobiles above their cot and pram/stroller.

Tummy time

It’s important for your baby to spend time on their tummy on the floor, kicking their legs and waving their arms as if they’re swimming. 

This strengthens their back and helps them start to learn how to crawl. After a while they may get frustrated with not being able to move forward or hold their head up – give them as long as they’re happy with.

Do not leave your baby on their tummy when they sleep. Sleeping on the tummy increases the risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy.

Put interesting things on the floor near them so they’ll try to move towards them when they’re ready. 

They will bring everything to their mouth – that’s their way of exploring the shape and texture of objects. Use rattles, plastic spoons and toys – anything colourful and smooth, and small enough to hold but too large to swallow.

Motor skills

Your baby:

  • rolls over from their front to her back at about 4 to 6 months
  • can lift their head and chest when on their tummy by 4 months
  • will lift and wave their arms and legs about when on their tummy 
  • begins to discover their hands belong to her, and plays with their fingers at about 3 to 4 months
  • grabs and plays with their toes when lying on their back at about 4 to 5 months
  • can hold objects for a short time at 3 to 4 months
  • brings toys and objects you put in their hand up to their mouth
  • swipes at dangling objects at 3 to 4 months, but usually misses
  • sits when being held by their hands. May sit for a short time on their own from 5 months.
  • grabs for toys at around 5 months
  • can support their own weight when stood on their feet (don’t do this too often – it doesn’t mean they’re ready to walk)
  • grabs at hair, glasses and so on when you hold them.
Hearing and seeing

Your baby is starting to under-stand the world around them. They can follow you with their eyes, look from one object to another, and focus on small objects.

If they can, they’ll check what they see by grabbing and mouthing the object. They think, ‘that’s round and smooth and mum keeps saying “spoon” – this “spoon” thing exists in the world as an object in its own right.

Their exploring is important, so make them comfortable, and give them time to concentrate and look properly at objects.

Sounds are also becoming familiar and defined – your baby will recognise voices and turn their head towards them.

Speech and language

Long before they can speak, your baby’s listening to you. They’re beginning to make the little noises and sounds that come before speech. When you imitate these, you’re ‘talking’ to your baby.

By responding to your baby’s needs when they cry, you are showing that you’ve heard them and that they matter. This is the start of communication.

  • Show them your tongue and practise simple sounds together like ‘maa’ and ‘daa’. They’ll be interested in how your mouth works and how the sound comes out.
  • When they make a sound, repeat it so they know what sound they’ve just made. You’ve started a conversation game between you.
  • Repeat single words to them a lot – name what they are seeing (a spoon) and what you are doing (bath). Say their name.

These conversations are really important. They are learning to talk, but they are also discovering that there is a ‘me’ and a ‘you’, and that language can help join the two of you. This sets the basis for all their relationships for the rest of their life.

Books

Babies can be interested in books from a very early age, so read to them often.

Your baby:

  • coos and gurgles with pleasure by 3 to 6 months
  • begins babbling and then listening at around 3 to 4 months
  • ‘talks’ to toys at around 5 to 6 months
  • turns their head towards sounds by 3 to 6 months.
Activities
  • Talk to your baby all the time, telling them what you are doing and what different noises are. Use simple words and very short sentences.
  • Make faces and blow raspberries on their belly.
  • Sing to them.
  • Put them on the floor on their tummy to play for short periods.
  • Put them on the floor without a nappy so they can freely kick their legs.
  • Give them bright objects to look at. Put some within reaching distance so that they accidentally touch it – then they’ll try to touch or hit it again.
  • Provide them with different things to do – change what they’re looking at or move them so they have something else to look at.
Your baby is unique

Every baby is different and may develop at different rates. 

So, if your baby does not do some of these things, they may be ‘working’ on a different area of learning and development. However, babies usually follow the same pattern of development, and it’s good to feel that your baby is developing normally, in their own unique way.

If you are worried about your baby’s development, or if they are very different from other babies, talk with your doctor or child health nurse. If there is a problem, it’s better to get help early.

Safety

Your baby can now grasp small objects and put them in their mouth, which means that they may swallow or choke on them. By 4 or 5 months, babies often roll over and can get into danger quickly. 

Make sure that they’re not left alone unless they’re in a safe place.

Alert

These are very important months. Don’t hesitate to get help from your doctor or community health nurse if:

  • your baby is unhappy or unsettled much of the time
  • you are unhappy or anxious much of the time
  • your baby is not turning to look for you when you speak
  • your baby is not smiling and cooing even some of the time
  • your baby is not kicking his legs
  • you feel that you and your baby just aren’t getting on together as well as you would like.

More information

Local community, school or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book
  • Look in the service finder for child health centres
  • Visit your nearest child health centre

Local family doctor

Ngala Helpline

  • 8.00am – 8.00pm 7 days a week
  • Phone: (08) 9368 9368
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Ngala website (external site)

Raising Children Network


Acknowledgements

Child and Adolescent Health Service – Community Health (CAHS CH)


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.