Baby development stages

Your child will grow and learn more in their first 12 months than at any other time of their life. This is a period where they begin to make connections to the world around them and to their emotions.

Supporting your baby’s development at different ages

Your baby will develop rapidly from birth – it’s amazing to see the changes that they go through. When thinking about your baby’s development, remember that some weeks you may see amazing changes and some weeks none. Don’t worry; you’ll no doubt soon see progress again. Remember that if your child has additional needs, they may take longer to achieve certain milestones.

During this period you have the opportunity to get advice and review your baby’s health and development at your Maternal and Child Health nurse appointments – a home visit when you first leave the hospital, at two, four and eight weeks; and then at four, eight and 12 months of age.


Newborn

As a newborn, your baby is ready to learn about the world around them but they are getting used to their new environment. Babies will often be fascinated by lights, sights and sounds. Newborns love looking at new faces, hearing a parent’s voice and spending lots of time cuddling.

As a newborn, your baby may be:

  • spending lots of time sleeping, feeding and crying
  • turning their eyes towards lights and sounds
  • making sudden jerky movements when asleep
  • grasping your fingers when you place them in their hands
  • looking into your eyes.

Here are some things you can do to help your newborn to develop:

  • Respond quickly and lovingly when your baby seeks your attention.
  • Smile and make facial expression at your baby.
  • Talk to your newborn in a soothing voice.
  • Hold and cuddle your newborn lots.
  • Talk and sing songs to your newborn while changing nappies, at bath time and so on.

Two weeks old

At two weeks old, your baby is adapting to life in their new environment, secure in the comfort of family and familiar surroundings. At this age, your baby needs lots of warmth, food and cuddles.

At two weeks old, your baby might be:

  • spending lots of time sleeping, feeding and crying
  • grasping your fingers when placed in their hand
  • getting startled by loud noises
  • starting to focus on faces
  • looking into your eyes.

Here are some things you could try to help them to develop at two weeks:

  • Talk to them about what you’re doing as you go about your day.
  • Looking into your baby’s eyes and copy their sounds and expressions – remember, conversations don’t need words!
  • Read to your baby and sing to them – starting off with black and white picture books are a good idea.
  • Cuddle your baby close to your chest.
  • Give them lots of skin-on-skin contact – you can try a baby massage.

Four weeks old

At four weeks old, your baby is learning every day and will be fascinated by the world around them. Everything that they see, hear and touch helps their brain to grow and develop.

At four weeks old, your baby might be:

  • watching familiar faces when being fed or talked to
  • lifting their head briefly and turning it from side to side when on their tummy
  • shutting their eyes to bright light
  • responding to your voice
  • moving their lips and tongue when you talk to them.

Here are some tips to help support your baby to develop when they are four weeks old:

  • Copy the sounds and expressions your baby makes.
  • Sing songs and rhymes to your baby.
  • Try tummy time on your lap, chest or a rolled up towel.
  • Look into their eyes and smile and chat – your baby’s connection with you is essential for their learning.
  • Share stories and read aloud to your baby – your baby loves the sound of your voice.

Four months old

A four-month-old baby is very curious about the world around them. At this age, babies need lots of love, attention and interesting experiences – this will do wonders for their growth, learning and development.

At four months old, your baby may be:

  • showing good head control, lifting it up 90 degrees when on his or her tummy
  • smiling and laughing out loud
  • reaching out for objects
  • following moving objects with their eyes
  • taking a greater interest in surroundings
  • attempting to reach for objects using both hands
  • vocalising to get attention and have their needs met
  • recognising familiar faces and starting to interact more with others.

Here are some ideas to help you support your baby’s development at four months:

  • Play with your baby while they are on their tummy on the floor.
  • Read with your baby – hold them close so they can see your face and the book.
  • Talk about what you’re doing when caring for your child and listen to their reply.
  • Show your baby different colours, shapes and textures .
  • Smile and make funny faces at your child.
  • See what grabs your child’s attention and have a conversation about it.
  • Change the tone of your voice when you’re telling a story – growly, silly, husky – and see how your baby reacts.

Eight months old

An 8 month old baby is learning about their world through touch, taste, smell and by listening and moving around. At this age, a baby needs to spend lots of time playing on their tummy in safe places.

Your baby may be:

  • keeping their head level with their body when pulled to a sitting position
  • progressing from sitting supported by your arms to sitting alone and rolling and crawling
  • recognising partly hidden objects
  • trying to get a toy that’s out of reach
  • looking closely at objects
  • moving by rolling or attempting to crawl
  • making sounds such as ‘ah goo’ or similar
  • babbling or imitating sounds
  • clapping hands
  • expressing feelings, likes and dislikes
  • enjoying and demanding attention and affection
  • increasing interaction with family members.

Here are some ideas to help you support your baby's development at eight months:

  • Play peek-a-boo with your baby.
  • Play on the floor with your baby – get on their level so you can see things from their perspective.
  • Take them for a walk outside and talk about what you see.
  • Visit the local playgroup to give your child an opportunity to meet and socialise with others.
  • Read aloud and share stories with them.

12 months old

At 12 months old, your baby will be more social and will love going for walks with you outside as well as spend time with the family.

At 12 months old, your baby might be:

  • waving bye bye
  • standing, climbing furniture or walking
  • pointing with their index finger
  • showing needs and wants in ways other than crying
  • saying one or two recognisable words
  • understanding several words and simple commands like ‘come to Daddy’
  • helping with dressing themselves by holding out arms for sleeves and feet for shoes
  • enjoying showing affection and always being near parents
  • beginning to understand the meaning of ‘no’.

Here are some ideas to help you support your baby's development at 12 months:

  • Family meals and special events are a great chance for your baby to connect with and learn with others.
  • Talk about things your baby shows you – they might like to show others too.
  • When reading to your child, encourage your child to hold the book and turn the pages.
  • Play music, sing and dance with your child.
  • Play with your child on their level – laugh lots and have fun.