Your newborn is cleverer than you might think. We reveal the skills he already has and what you can do to help them develop
1 He can walk (sort of)
As your baby’s brain develops, the areas that control his head and neck will strengthen first, followed by his upper body, and his legs last – which is why your baby will push up and crawl before he can walk. ‘However, he will have a stepping reflex when he’s first born,’ says Professor Alan Slater of the University of Exeter. ‘If you hold your baby in an upright position, he’ll lift his legs up and down as if he’s walking. This reflex disappears at around four months.’
Try it Letting your baby kick and make a bicycle movement when he’s in the bath or at the pool will help to strengthen his leg muscles.
2 He’s already flexing his muscles
'Give him tummy time and it will help strengthen his arm and neck muscles'
He may not have the mischievous temperament yet, but your baby already resembles a little monkey. ‘If you press on the palm of your newborn’s hand, his fingers will wrap round you and start gripping,’ says Professor Slater. ‘It’s called the palmar grasp reflex and it’s a remnant from when our ancestors were apes, and babies had to hang on to the mother while she carried them around.’
Try it Give him tummy time and it will help strengthen his arm and neck muscles. If he’s not a fan of this, try laying him along your body while you’re lying on the bed so he can look down into your face.
3 His vision may be blurry (but he still loves your face)
‘Your baby’s ability to see detail will be developing for the first few months of his life,’ says Dr Andrew Bremner from the Infant Lab at the University of Goldsmiths, although, he can’t yet differentiate between pale colours. ‘His eyes may flash back and forth when trying to follow an object,’ says Dr Bremner. ‘That’s because for the first three months, he can’t track things smoothly with his eyes.’
Try it Have face time to help improve his tracking skills. Your newborn is automatically drawn to faces. Hold your baby’s gaze, then move your head from side-to-side so his eyes follow you.
4 Your voice makes him happy
Your baby started hearing sounds while he was in the womb, so the sound of your voice will soothe him now he’s in the outside world. ‘If you repeatedly read the same book to your baby before your birth, he’ll recognise and prefer your voice reading it when he’s born,’ says Dr Bremner. ‘If a stranger read it, your baby would sense the different intonation and wouldn’t feel as calm and happy.’ Your baby’s hearing will be fully developed by the time he’s a month old.
Try it You can capture his attention by talking to your newborn in a high-pitched voice and elongating your vowels (hellooo, baaaby!). He’ll tune into this even more than a consistent tone.
5 His smile actually means something
'Your baby smiling shows that he’s trying to please you'
When your little one grins for the first time, it’s all part of his in-built survival technique to make you love him, but it also shows that he’s trying to please you. The smiles it provokes in you encourages him to repeat it. ‘It also makes him more attractive to you – and any other adult nearby – so that you care for him,’ says Dr Bob Welch from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Try it To encourage smiles, look for times when he is calm, yet alert. Talk to him or play peekaboo so you have his attention, then smile yourself. Your baby will start copying you.
6 He’s already got a superbrain
Your newborn’s brain contains all the cells he’ll ever need – and more. ‘His brain contains twice as many neurons than he’ll actually use, but only the best connections and cells will survive,’ says Dr Welch. Your baby already has an understanding of numbers, too. When newborns are played sequences of four sounds and 12 sounds, followed by images with the same number of objects, they will look longer at the images that match the number of sounds.
Try it Copy his actions and sounds, even if it’s just gurgles – and it will help develop brain connections.
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