Feeling kicked that your 20-day-old daughter smiled at you? Actually she did not. Her cheek muscles just happened to move for no reason and you happened to be in her line of vision.
Don’t be disappointed, it will be this way till your daughter learns to control her movements. In the first two months of her life, her movements will be largely involuntary, except the movement of her head and eyes and, of course, the suckling reflex, which fulfills her most important need at this time of life – food.
In the first week of life, do not be surprised if your baby loses a little weight. All babies lose around 10 percent of what they weighed at birth in the first week of life. Your baby will regain it by the end of the second week when colostrum is replaced by milk, which has a higher fat content. Besides, by then she will learn to suck more effectively and her milk intake will improve as you also learn to be more comfortable with her.
Not only smiles, a lot of your child’s cries too, will be without reason when they are not in response to stimuli like bedwetting or an occasional colic. Crying peaks at six weeks of age, when a healthy infant could cry for about a sum total of three hours a day – a figure that will reduce by the time she is three months old.
Try to talk to your child and keep her stimulated throughout the day. This will ensure a good night’s sleep. Most infants wake up briefly two or three times to feed during the night by the time they are two months old, while some others sleep six hours or more at a stretch.
Physical development is more covert than overt in the first two months of life. In the neonatal period, that is the first four weeks of life, your baby lies in a position similar to the foetal position, turns her head from side to side, and smiles when she sees a human face. She will spend most of the first month sleeping – 12 to 18 hours a day — waking up only to be fed.
The next month will be a little better. Your child will be more vocal, pay attention to new sounds and make cooing noises to hold everyone’s attention. By the time she is eight weeks old, she will have learnt to use her smile as a medium of social communication. This is the first definitive milestone. Her eyes follow moving objects to 180 degrees and her head lags behind when you pull her to a sitting position.
The process of caring for the baby provides visual, tactile, auditory and olfactory stimuli, all of which play an important role in the development of cognition. Make sure that you provide a series of new stimuli at regular intervals. Once your baby has got used to a certain stimulus she soon tires of it. You’ll see a bored expression descend at this time. Therefore you have to provide fresh stimuli every now and then. Because, this is the time when she learns distinguish between colours and patterns. She also learns to sort stimuli into meaningful sets. For instance, she can recognise facial expressions (smiles) as similar, even when they appear on different faces and that sucking a bottle, sucking a pacifier and sucking a finger are all basically the same act. She will now be able to perceive objects and events as coherent, even while noting aspects that are discrepant.
According to Erik Eriksons, a development psychologist, developing basic trust is the first of psychosocial stages in an infant. “The consistent availability of a trusted adult aids a secure attachment”, he says. If you make it a point to always respond to your baby’s distress calls, she will cry less by the time she is a year old and will not be too aggressive by the time she is two.
The emotional significance of any experience depends on the individual child’s temperament and her parents’ response to it. When a baby wants food, hunger generates increasing tension and as her urgency peaks, she cries. But, the tension vanishes the moment you feed her. Infants fed on demand learn to make this link between their distress calls, the arrival of a parent and relief from hunger. Most infants fed on a timed schedule quickly adapt their metabolic cycle to the schedule. Those who cannot because they are temperamentally prone to irregular biological rhythms, experience periods of unrelieved hunger as well as unwanted feelings even when they are full.