From the day your baby is born he will be learning new things. His brain is programmed for development to occur naturally, all you need to do is provide the right environment and at times point him in the right direction.
Your baby’s development is determined by three factors: Genotype, personality and environment. Genotype is a genetic map provided by the parents. For example if you walked at 11 months then your baby may have the ability to walk at 11 months too, but then again he may only walk later despite the genetics provided. While you are not able to change your baby’s genetic potential or personality, you are able to provide a nurturing and stimulating environment to enable your baby to reach their full potential.
It is important to realise that babies concentrate on developing different areas of the brain and hence different skills at different times. It is very normal for them to acquire a new skill and then to appear as if they have lost it for a while. Don’t feel tempted to compare your baby to other babies since all babies move at their own pace and, unless there is an underlying problem, by the age of two they will all catch up with each other. The speed at which they develop is not a sign of giftedness or delay.
Stimulating your baby can be valuable, but when trying to keep up with others we can over stimulate. Routine and sufficient sleep are also very important factors in development. The best time to stimulate your baby is when they are calm and alert. This will be once they have woken from a sleep and basic needs such as nappy changes and food have been met. Play with your baby at this time but be aware of signs that they are getting tired or irritable. The calm alert phase may only last for 15-20 minutes in a new born but will increase to about 45 minutes by 3 months of age.
It is during the first two years of your baby’s life that physical development is at its fastest. When your baby is born movement will be dominated by reflexes. His hands will be fisted and his legs and arms will be in a curled position. As the muscles strengthen the limbs straighten and by 6 weeks you should notice a considerable change. The first physical challenge that your baby will face is to increase the strength in his head and neck.
The parts of the brain that control movement develop in a head to toe sequence. This is the reason that babies develop skills in a certain order. The easiest way to know how to stimulate your baby, what games to play and what toys may be best is to have an understanding of the order of these milestones. If you know what they should be achieving next the rest is easy.
Approximate timing of milestones:
Remember that these are only approximate timings. Your baby may do some things slightly earlier and some later. They may also miss out certain milestones, such as rolling and crawling. This in itself does not indicate a problem, but valuable skills are achieved through practicing these movements, so I would always advise parents to encourage their babies to reach them. If a baby is not sitting by 10 months or walking by 18 months then further assessment may be required.