Baby’s development: Months 4 to 6
From the fourth to the six month, babies go through important development steps. For example, they learn how to express what they want. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t keep to the schedule. Children usually reach the milestones in their own time.
- Breastfeeding: Mother’s milk is easily digestible and remains the best form of nutrition for your baby. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months. Although it’s great to see your child responding more and more to the world around her as she gets older, it makes breastfeeding more difficult, because she’s more easily distracted. Try to find a quiet place for breastfeeding.
- Rolling over: While lying on her stomach, your baby is starting to lift her head and shoulders off the floor by pushing herself up with her arms. These mini push-ups strengthen her arms and help her see what’s going on in the room. Maybe your child will surprise you (and herself!) by rolling over from her stomach to her back and vice versa. Celebrate this achievement with your baby – she needs your reassurance, particularly when she does something she’s not completely sure about.
- Solid food: Up to the age of 6 months, your child will get all the nutrients she needs from breast milk or formula. Talk to your doctor, local health centre or lactation consultant about introducing solids. Many doctors and the World Health Organisation advise against introducing solids before 6 months.
- Stretching, grabbing, putting things in their mouths: Your baby can now stretch out and grab for objects, even if she doesn’t always grasp them at first. As soon as she has the object in her small fist, she’ll look at it for a moment and then put it in her mouth. Encourage your baby to discover and play with different things, for example cloth nappies, rattles or a bell tied to string. She will discover cause and effect by crumpling and releasing the material or by pulling on the string attached to the bell. To prevent choking, don’t let her play with small objects.
- Teething: Maybe your baby is starting to dribble more. Some babies start teething at this age, but teeth don’t usually appear before 6 months. To soothe the pain, your child will suck on her fist. Some babies get a high temperature, suffer from diarrhoea and/or sleep badly while they’re teething.
- Independent play: At 4 months, your baby is happy to play alone for a few minutes. If you notice it’s suddenly gone quiet in the room next door, you’ll probably find your baby playing happily with her hands and feet.
- Language: Researchers believe that at 4 months babies already understand the basic elements of their native language. At around 6 months, babies are able to produce their first speech sounds, such as “ma-ma”, “da da”. However, at this age, she doesn’t connect these sounds with her parents. But she can take part in games by imitating the sounds you make. This strengthens her developing communication skills.
- Colour preferences: Although babies can see from birth, they have difficulties initially in differentiating between similar shades, e.g. red and orange. This is why they initially prefer black and white or other strongly contrasting colours. Between 2 and 4 months, your baby can identify differences in colour and shade more clearly. Mobiles in primary colours, bright pictures and expressive picture books are sure to catch her eye.
- Picky with people: From 4 months, your baby will respond to your presence, voice and gestures by kicking her legs and waving her arms. Up to now, she’s probably greeted everyone with a smile, but she’s getting a bit pickier now. Give her time to adjust when she meets strangers, including babysitters.
- Sitting without support: Your baby’s physical development is now progressing rapidly. When you lay him on his stomach, he’ll stretch out his arms and legs and lift up his bottom. He’ll lift his head and shoulders off the floor. Maybe he can even sit unsupported for a few moments. But stay nearby in case he topples over. Encourage him to play on his tummy: lifting his head to look at toys strengthens his neck muscles and improves his head control – both are important skills for learning to sit.
- More sounds: Every day your baby is learning as you speak to him – and answers with noises, making raspberries and babbling.
- Eating independently and having meals together: Although your child can hold his own bottle now, it’s not good for his (growing) teeth to suck on the teat too often if it contains anything but water (this applies, for example, to sweetened tea). At 6 months he’ll be able to sit straight unsupported and pick up small pieces of food from his plate. At this age, use mealtimes as an opportunity for cuddling and mothering your child – it won’t be long before he wants to do everything himself. Maybe you’ll pick up signs that he’s already ready for solid food, for example when the reflex to push the spoon to the front of his mouth with his tongue weakens. You can now make meals for the whole family, making mealtimes part of the baby’s social fabric. However, make sure that any food you make is not too salty or sugary during the first year.
- Cause and effect: Your child understands that actions always have some kind of effect. He may drop bowls just to see how they fall or whether you pick them up. This can be tiring, but let him have his fun – in a few weeks this activity will even be accompanied by a cheeky giggle.
- Seeing small items and pastel colours: Your baby will get better and better at seeing small objects and following moving objects with his eyes. You can now have fun playing hide-and-seek games. In addition, your child can differentiate easily not only between primary colours but also pastel shades.
- Fine-tuning hearing skills: Your baby can now identify where sounds come from and will quickly turn around if she hears a new one. He’ll now watch your mouth attentively when you speak and try to imitate accentuations and produce consonants such as “m” and “b”. At 5 months, your baby can understand his own name – watch how he turns her head if you’re talking to someone about him.
- Diverting attention: If your baby gets crotchety while you’re out shopping, you can easily divert his attention for a short time, e.g. by making faces, singing a song, clapping your hands or giving him something to play with.
- Expressing feelings: Babies can’t yet express their feelings like adults, but they can certainly show if they’re hungry, happy or bored. At this age your baby will be very clingy and will stretch out his arms when he wants a cuddle and cry when you leave the room. He’s now learnt to cuddle and kiss you. When he discovers his sense of humour, he’ll laugh at funny faces or gestures and try to make you laugh too.
- Small exploring hands: At around 6 months your baby has sufficient control over her hands to pull objects towards her. She could also discover that letting objects go or fall is just as funny as picking them up. This makes her world more interesting and yours more chaotic.
- Left or right-handed? It’s still too early to tell yet. At this age most babies show a preference for one hand, then switch to the other. You can only really tell whether a child is left or right-handed at the age of 2 or 3.
- Rolling over: At this age, most babies learn to turn in all directions. You should therefore always keep one hand on your baby when she’s on a raised surface, e.g. when you’re changing nappies or when she’s on the sofa or lying on your bed.
- Attention: Although your baby may be showing signs of stranger anxiety, at 6 months most babies are still very happy to interact with just about anyone, and raised eyebrows and a smile are enough to form a “friendship”. But don’t worry, you’re still her No. 1! Your baby is also learning that her behaviour has an effect on you – in both a positive and negative way. She’ll start to use this knowledge as a means of winning your attention, and will continue to do so for quite some time.
- Expressing feelings: In the next few months your child will develop her own special methods – going far beyond crying – to let you know what she’s thinking, what she wants and what she needs.
- Interaction: At 6 months, babies love to interact with you, particularly mimicking sounds and language. Now and again, let your baby take the lead and imitate the sounds and noises she makes. When it’s your turn, you can make your own noises (e.g. animal sounds) to entertain her and teach her something at the same time.
- Vision quality and babbling: At 6 months, your baby sees the world around her as clearly as an adult. And her communication skills are improving rapidly. Her repertoire now includes squealing, blowing raspberries, fast changes in pitch and babbling. Around half of all children at this age start babbling. They repeat syllables such as “ma”, “pa”, “ga” or other consonant-vowel combinations – and they’ll do so again and again. You can encourage your child by babbling back to her.
- Stimulating senses: Your baby uses all of her senses to explore the world around her. Give her interesting things to touch, put in her mouth and play with, such as rubber balls, pieces of material, soft toys (maybe ones that make noises) and teething rings. However, make sure she doesn’t have access to items that are too small, because these are a choking hazard.
- Picture books: You child will love to look at pictures and picture books with stories. She will listen attentively for a while, enjoying both your stories and your cuddles.