How Babies Learn and Develop:

0-4 Months

In the first months of life, babies grow and change quickly! Even babies born premature or with medical concerns show an interest in learning and interacting very early.

Newborns may seem sleepy but they are taking it all in. Babies this age are learning as they see, hear and touch the things that surround them.

At this early age, babies are able to communicate what they need by fussing and crying. Babies are building a strong sense of attachment and safety with the adults that care for them.

Every child learns and grows at his or her own pace. This page describes typical development but all children are different. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s development, talk to your child’s health care provider.

Loving relationships are the building blocks for healthy development.

Loving relationships make children feel safe, valued and encouraged. Relationships teach young children how to form friendships, understand and communicate their feelings, and overcome challenges.

Through our relationships with them as they grow, we teach children to develop compassion for others and a sense of right and wrong.

Starting at birth, the way that adults treat babies shapes what they learn and understand about themselves.

Every day, when we care for and interact with our children we send them messages such as: You’re smart, you figured that out! You make me laugh and I enjoy being with you. You are loved. These messages shape how a baby feels about herself or her self-esteem.

Tips to support social-emotional development at 0-4 months:

  • Provide warm, responsive care. Give your baby the care that matches his needs. This will become easier as you get to know your baby and understand his likes and dislikes, favorite toys and the best daily schedule.
  • Support baby’s developing skills. Babies this age learn through relationships and by starting to explore the world around them. Show excitement when your baby explores and discovers.
  • Help babies feel safe and loved. When we cuddle, rock, sing, read and talk to our baby, we send her messages that she is special and she is loved. Even when babies cry, it’s important to be affectionate and nurturing. This communicates to them that we love them no matter what.

Source: Zero to Three, https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/series/developing-social-emotional-skills

BABIES THIS AGE MAY: HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM LEARN:
Be sensitive to loud sounds, bright lights, or activity, and they may suddenly throw their arms out to the sides when they get startled. These are normal responses! Move them to a quiet atmosphere to protect them from too much noise or activity.
Learn to adjust their posture for comfort.

Snuggle into a caregiver’s body when being held or fed.

*NOTE: Babies who are born early may move differently or use body positions that are different from those of other babies.

Offer a variety of positions for them when they are awake, such as in your arms, on your shoulder, or on the baby’s back, sides, or stomach. This helps promote body movement and to acquaint babies with different positions.
Begin to follow their parents’ and caregivers’ faces with their eyes, later starting to move their head. Copy facial expressions in response to parents’ or caregivers’ voices or smiles. Build connection and trust simply by looking at them and smiling warmly when they are awake. Match the baby’s level of interest and ability to take in sounds and actions.
Develop a sense of trust and security with parents and caregivers and feel secure with their parents and caregivers. Provide consistent routines that help them know what to expect. This may mean doing some things, such as feeding and changing, the same way each time.

Source: Colorado Early Learning & Development Guidelines, www.EarlyLearningCO.org

Many children with developmental delays or behavior concerns are not identified as early as they could be. As a result, these children have to wait to get the help they need to succeed in social and educational settings (in school, at home, and in the community).

It’s important to identify children with developmental delays or behavior concerns as early as possible. Research shows that early intervention and treatment greatly improves healthy development.

DEVELOPMENTAL MONITORING DEVELOPMENTAL SCREENING DEVELOPMENTAL EVALUATION
What is it? 

Keeping your eyes out for developmental milestones

Who does it? 

Parents, grandparents, other caregivers

When does it happen? 

Birth through 5 years old

Why is it important?  

  • To celebrate a child’s development
  • To talk about your child’s progress with child care and health providers
  • To identify any concerns early

How? 

Get free, simple-to-use checklists here.

What is it? 

Looking for specific developmental milestones

Who does it? 

Pediatrician, early childhood educator, other professional

When does it happen? 

At 9, 18, 24 and 30 months – or whenever there is a concern

Why is it important?  

  • To find out if your child needs more support with development
  • To decide if a developmental evaluation is needed

How? 

Professionals use a formal validated screening tool; learn more here.

What is it? 

Identifying and diagnosing developmental delays or conditions

Who does it? 

Pediatrician, child psychologist or trained provider

When does it happen? 

Whenever there is a concern

Why is it important?  

  • To find out if a child needs treatment, and/or
  • Qualifies for early intervention

How? 

Professionals do a detailed examination using formal assessment tools, observation and conversations with parents and caregivers.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/screening.html

Learn more on the Developmental Screenings FAQ page.

Babies 0-4 months old are developing a sense of trust and security with parents and caregivers. They enjoy interacting face to face. Babies will soon know what to expect in their daily routine.

They are likely to be sensitive to loud noises, bright lights or lots of activity.

Try these tips to build a baby’s resiliency skills at 0-4 months:

  • Smile at baby, gently hug and snuggle with her
  • Respond to baby kindly and warmly every time you interact
  • Make eye contact with baby during routines like feeding and diapering
  • Talk and coo with baby, imitate his sounds and expressions
  • Create routines – stick to a schedule for feeding, sleeping and other activities so baby learns what to expect
  • Talk, read and sing to baby every day
  • Give baby a break from activity – take her to a quiet place and cuddle and sway with her to help her calm down

Source: Colorado Project LAUNCH, www.EarlyChildhoodMentalHealthCO.org

The architecture of the human brain is constructed over time. The process begins before birth and continues into adulthood.

Early experiences and relationships shape how our brain gets built. Secure and loving relationships create a strong foundation for healthy brain development.

Depending on our experiences and relationships in the early years, our brains will establish either a sturdy or a fragile foundation, which impacts us for the rest of our lives.

Early brain development occurs through an essential process called “serve and return,” or the back-and-forth interaction between young children and the adults that care for them. 

5 Steps for Brain-Building Serve and Return

Learn more about brain-building serve and return in this video.

Sources: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, https://developingchild.harvard.edu/;  Zero to Three, www.zerotothree.org

More Resources