Now is the time that things really begin moving—especially your baby! Browse the information and links below to see what your little one is experiencing and learning this month.
What It’s Like for You
By 5 months, most babies are rolling over and grabbing, grasping, and reaching. You are also probably seeing your baby’s personality beginning to emerge. This can be an exciting time for you as each day you discover a little bit more about who your baby is, and who he is becoming. At the same time you may wonder where your own individual self has gone! You’ve spent so many months focusing on your baby’s needs that it can feel like it’s been a long time since you did something for yourself. Don’t feel shy about calling in some family, friends, or a caregiver to allow you the time and space to do something you enjoy—once a day, once a week, hopefully at least once a month.
Christy, mother to Joseph (5 months), explains, I had stopped exercising after Joseph was born—I was too tired, too busy. But last weekend, my cousin sat with him for an hour while I took a walk around the neighborhood. It felt so good! I had some time to just think about things. I came back feeling so peaceful and refreshed. The craziest thing was that even though I had been walking for almost an hour, I felt like I actually had more energy to take care of Joseph.
Like this parent, you’ll probably discover that when your needs are met, you feel better able to meet your baby’s needs.
What It’s Like for Baby:
I see it—it’s bright yellow with an orange beak! Mommy squeezes it and WOW! It goes squeak, squeak as loud as can be! I have got to have that toy. But how can I get it? First, I reach across my blanket but it’s a little too far away. I make a noise to get my mom’s attention, but she’s looking at a book. Better try again. I reach and reach but just cannot get that duck! So I make another noise—but this time I use my frustrated voice. Mommy looks up and sees me. You’re working hard to get your toy, aren’t you, little guy? Try again… She’s moving the duck a little closer! I reach my arm and wiggle my body as hard as I can and I get my hand around it. I did it! I got it! I can’t wait to see if I can squeak it myself!
What Your Baby Is Learning
Language and Thinking Skills:
- To use her voice and actions to communicate and connect with her mother
- To solve the problem of reaching the toy
- To problem-solve as she seeks her mother’s help
- To trust that her mother will respond to help her
- Persistence when she tries again and again to reach the toy and to get her mom’s attention
- Confidence in her own abilities
- Hand-eye coordination when she reaches for the toy
- How to move her body to get to something she wants
- How to repeat movements that are helping her reach her goal
What to Expect From Your Baby’s Development
As you review the chart, keep in mind that development is not a race and that every child grows at her own pace and in her own way. Your child may develop skills faster or slower than indicated below and still be on track. If you have questions or concerns, talk with your child’s health care provider or other trusted professional.
Your Toddler’s Development From 3 to 6 Months
|What Your Baby Can Do||What You Can Do to Connect With Your Baby|
I am learning to control my body.
I use my hands and fingers to explore.
I communicate by using sounds, actions, and facial expressions.
I am ready for books.
I am getting used to the world around me.
Did You Know…
Yes—your baby actually is imitating what you say! In one research study, 3- to 5-month-old babies watched and listened to films of an adult making vowel sounds (ah, ee, oo, etc.). After only 15 minutes of experience with these sounds (over 3 days, 5 minutes at a time), even some of the youngest babies tried to imitate the adults talking. Often they were successful at making similar, if not perfect, copies of the sounds they heard.
What the Research Means for You
Even though your baby doesn’t understand words yet, it’s important to talk with him throughout the day. This helps him learn language and to eventually put the words he’s hearing together with the ideas they stand for—for example, that mama and dada are names for you! Remember that babies who are talked to the most have the biggest vocabularies later on.
Spotlight On: Creating Routines With Your Baby
For grown-ups, routines are not necessarily our idea of fun, like mowing the lawn or going grocery shopping. But routines can also be comforting, like sipping a coffee each morning or reading a book before bed. For babies and toddlers, there’s no such thing as a boring routine.
For babies and toddlers, daily routines are events—like mealtime, naptime, drop-off/pick-up at child care, bath time, and bedtime—that happen at about the same time and in the same way each day. For example, a bedtime routine might include a bath, then stories, then a lullaby, and finally bed. Routines help babies begin to understand that the world is a sensible and organized place. And they help children learn what will happen next. This makes them feel safe and secure. Routines can also help babies cope during difficult times. Routines provide a sense of “sameness” when there has been a recent change in your baby’s world, such as a new babysitter, a new bed, a new sibling, or a new house.
Below are some ways you can begin using daily routines to support your child’s healthy development:
- To support your child’s growing social skills. As babies grow, they come into contact with more people and begin to learn the role that routines play in building relationships with others. Hellos and good-byes, playtime, and mealtime are three routine interactions that teach important social skills like talking, taking turns, sharing, learning to wait, and helping others.
- To soothe your baby. For example, having a relaxing naptime routine can help babies calm down after active playtime, making it easier for them to fall asleep. You might give your baby a brief massage with lotion, and then read a book and/or sing a lullaby to help her make the shift to dreamland.
- To support the development of self-control. Routines can be helpful for teaching children to wait. For example, if every time your baby is hungry, you sing out to him, Milk is coming, Milk is coming, he learns that these words mean that you are soon coming with a yummy snack. This helps to calm him and may lead to less crying and fussing because he trusts that you’ll meet his needs. This is the very beginning of learning self-control, a process that will take the next few years to fully develop.
- To nurture yourself. Becoming a parent has its stressful moments. Finding a way to continue a routine from your pre-kid life (like an evening out or an activity you enjoy) can help keep you and your partner close. In addition, beginning a special routine with your child (such as preparing a special breakfast on Saturdays) can bridge your transition to being a family.
Keep in mind that there will be times when your baby’s routines will be “off,” like during trips to the grandparents’ house. Plan ahead. If you can help your baby experience some “sameness” it will make routines like mealtimes and bedtimes go easier. For example, you can bring a familiar bib, spoon, and bowl for eating, and a favorite stuffed animal, book, and crib sheet for bedtime.
Being flexible is also a good thing. Even though routines are important, don’t be a slave to them. If there is a beautiful sunset one summer evening, go ahead and take your baby out for a walk even if it’s right before bed. These out-of-the-ordinary “treats” (for you and your child) are what memories are made of.
Let’s Play: Activities That Nurture Bonding and Learning
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Sit on the floor, with your baby facing you on your lap. Rock side to side, holding baby securely, while you sing Row, Row, Row Your boat, Gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream! At the end of the song, lift baby up in the air and bring her toward you for a big kiss.
Bucket of Balls
Select three or four different baby-safe balls, in different colors and textures. Put these in a plastic bucket and take them out one by one. Show each to your child and give him the chance to touch and mouth them. Then put them back in the bucket and offer him the bucket. What does he do?
What’s on Your Mind?
1. We have a 5-month-old daughter and just found out that I’m expecting. Our daughter will be 14 months old when our second is born. We’re not sure how to prepare her for the new baby since she’ll barely be talking by then. Do children this young feel sibling rivalry?
It’s great that you are already thinking about how to prepare your daughter for her new sibling. Even very young children can have strong feelings and reactions to the arrival of a brother or sister. Up until now, your first child has had your undivided attention and love. So having a new sibling will be a real loss for her. At the same time it will be a big gain. Having a sibling helps children learn about sharing and cooperation, and can be a source of friendship and support for the rest of their lives.
While in the earliest months of your pregnancy you may not even be showing yet, your baby will likely be very sensitive to the changes she detects, especially if you are struggling with morning sickness and fatigue. She is likely to react to your changing body and moods. She may become more clingy and fussy, as this is a common reaction for young children when they are dealing with change or are confused about a situation. So tune in to how she is reacting and give her lots of support and comfort during this time. Also keep routines and interactions as predictable as possible to reassure her that everything is, and will be, okay. Finally, as you prepare for the birth, try to keep talk of the delivery (including your worries or concerns) to a minimum around your toddler. She is not able to understand the complexities of labor and delivery, and may only respond to your tone of voice and feel frightened or worried.
As for when to talk with her directly about the new baby, you’re right that this is a challenge. Your daughter will probably not have a very extensive speaking vocabulary at 14 months and won’t be able to understand the idea of what a pregnancy is (or a new sibling, for that matter). Also, young toddlers don’t have the capacity to remember an idea like “a baby’s coming” for very long, so talking about the pregnancy too soon may confuse her.
The good news is that while your child may not be speaking a lot, the words she is able to understand are growing by leaps and bounds. This means that books about new babies and big sisters can be helpful, even though she won’t grasp their full meaning. Another idea is to look through photos of your daughter’s first months together and talk to her about what happens when a new baby comes home. If she is beginning to engage in pretend play, you can play with baby dolls, mimicking the daily rituals she will soon see you do with your newborn, like diaper changing, breastfeeding, and bathing. Pretend play can also be a great way for your daughter to express the mixed feelings she might be experiencing, so don’t worry when she hits or talks aggressively to her dolls or stuffed animals. This is a safe and healthy outlet for her.
Think about ways to include your daughter in the birth. Consider having her come to the hospital afterward, both to see that you are okay and to feel a part of the excitement surrounding the baby. As you think through this decision, it’s important to confirm that the hospital is welcoming of young children and has a warm, pleasant atmosphere. Also, think about your child’s temperament. How might she react in this kind of setting and situation? If you think it may be overwhelming or upsetting to her, a visit to the hospital, especially if you will only be there for a day or two, may not be the best idea. If you do have your daughter visit, have her bring a game or toy the two of you can play together. If you are up for it, have her cuddle with you in your bed as you read a story. While she will certainly have some interest in the new baby, don’t be surprised if she is most interested in you. Think of this visit as an opportunity to reassure her that she is still loved and important to you.
Consider giving your daughter a baby doll as a “gift” from her sibling. Over time, as she better understands pretend play, you can suggest that she care for her doll as you care for the baby. Most importantly, she needs the security of consistent care and consistent routines. Some disruption is an inevitable consequence of having a new baby, but preparing for and minimizing the changes in routine can help.
Finding ways to make your firstborn feel special is also very important. Making one-on-one time each day for you and your daughter, and for your partner and your daughter, may limit the regression to baby behaviors like clinging, asking to go back to drinking from bottles, and crawling rather than walking. (This temporary regression is common when a new baby arrives.) If you stay patient, loving, and supportive, your daughter will not only continue to thrive, but will also grow to love her promotion to big sister.
2. I’ve been breastfeeding my 5-month-old since he was born, but he just got his second tooth and I’ve just gotten my second bite. Any ideas for what works in this situation? I want to keep breastfeeding as long as possible.
Ouch! Babies may begin to bite while nursing when they get their first teeth, usually between 4 and 6 months. What’s important to know is that babies don’t bite on purpose to be hurtful. They are still learning how to use their chompers and don’t understand yet what teeth can do.
The good news is that your baby can’t breastfeed and bite at the same time. It turns out that our natural reaction to being bitten on the breast (usually a fairly loud ouch!) tends to startle the baby and sends the message that using teeth while nursing is a no-no. The best response when your baby bites is to remove him from the breast (remember to slip your finger into his mouth to disengage him or it can really hurt!). This helps him understand that biting, while nursing, is not appropriate. You’re also beginning to teach him the cause and effect of his actions: If he bites while nursing, Mom will remove the breast. After you remove your breast and wait a few seconds, try again. If you continue with this strategy, over time he will connect your actions with his behavior and hopefully stop biting while nursing.
It’s also important to think about why your baby may be biting. Babies bite for a variety of reasons. It may be a sign that they are full, have lost their “latch,” or feel restless, playful, or even curious. Some babies also bite because they enjoy or even crave the sensation of biting.
To stop bites before they happen, observe your child while he’s nursing and remove your breast after rhythmic sucking has stopped. Then move him to the second breast before he has a chance to get bored or tired, which are the “red alerts” for biting. If you think your baby falls into the category of those who crave the biting sensation, throughout the day offer him objects that are safe for him to bite. This may make it less likely that he will use you as a chew toy! (On the off chance that your baby does bite your breast and breaks the skin—which is very rare—do see a doctor. Human bites can be easily infected and can cause mastitis—a breast infection.)
And don’t worry that biting signals the end of breastfeeding. Many mothers nurse their children into toddlerhood with no problems. Most babies quickly learn not to bite and are able to continue with the close and comforting ritual of nursing for as long as they and their mothers would like.
- Terrie Rose, PhD, President and Founder, Baby’s Space
- Ross Thompson, PhD, Professor of Psychology, University of California at Davis
- Robert Weigand, MS, IMH-E, Director, Child Development Laboratory, Arizona State University
This ZERO TO THREE newsletter series was made possible by generous funding from the MetLife Foundation.
*Additonal reporting from Claire Lerner