The first month of life is a steep learning curve for both the new baby and the new parents. In even a few short weeks, your baby will have come a long way from the moment he was born.
Your baby starts life with more than 70 separate reflexes. Reflexes are instinctive, rather than learned, behaviors, and many will gradually fade away in the coming months. Two of the most important inborn skills are rooting and sucking. To see your baby’s rooting reflex in action, simply touch his cheek. He assumes that a nipple is nearby, and he’ll automatically turn toward your touch. Once he latches on to the breast or bottle, he’ll automatically begin to suck in response to the touch of the nipple on the roof of his mouth.
Another newborn reflex is called the Moro or startle reflex. If your baby’s head flops backward unexpectedly or if he hears a loud noise, he may throw his arms out and cup his hands as if trying to hug someone. This reaction is believed to be a way to elicit care from Mommy or Daddy. Comfort him with a snuggle and some soothing words.
You may also be amazed to see your baby taking steps when held upright on a flat surface. This walking reflex will fade sometime in the second month. At first, your baby’s movements will be erratic and jerky. But as his muscles get stronger and his nervous system develops, he will start to gain more control over his body. He’ll still flail about, but his motions will seem more purposeful. By the end of the first month he may even be able to lift his head and look from side to side while lying on his tummy.
Your baby will spend a good part of his waking hours with a bewildered look on his face. Although the common wisdom is that he can see clearly only at a distance of 8 to 10 inches, newborns are capable of focusing objects at any distance. (They may lack the muscles to see accurately for a while, however.) Surprisingly, researchers have also found that babies can see color as early as two weeks of age. Your baby may look cross-eyed at times — this is normal. (Constant crossing of the eyes does call for medical attention, though.) Your baby may not be able to see well at long distances, but he closely studies anything within range, such as his crib rails or the shapes on his mobile. Still, nothing will capture his attention more than a human face.
Your baby has been enjoying the sound of your voice since late pregnancy, and he continues to be attuned to his parents’ voices throughout the first month. He is especially interested in high-pitched human sounds, such as those you naturally use in baby talk. He may even turn towards you when you speak to him.
In the first month of life, your baby may sleep between 14 and 18 hours a day, broken up into naps. This is not the case for all babies, though. Some just find the world too interesting.
As much as you might long for a full nights rest, he isn’t physically capable of sleeping for more than two to four hours at a time. Young babies have very small stomachs (about the size of their fist), which need to be refilled often. And human breast milk is digested quickly, so newborns need to tank up regularly. Formula takes a little longer to digest, so formula-fed babies may eat a little less frequently and might even sleep for longer periods. (Still, that’s not a good reason to give up the benefits of breast milk.)
To stay as rested as possible, try napping when your baby does during the day. If you are bottle feeding, have your partner or another family member take a turn with nighttime feedings. This can be done by bottle feeding breast milk.
No matter how well you care for him, you can expect your newborn to cry as much as two hours every day. It’s his only way to express his need for comfort, food, a diaper change, or a change of scenery. If your baby cries a great deal more than that, talk to your baby’s doctor about checking for medical conditions that might be causing your baby discomfort. If baby gets a clean bill of health but still cries for long periods of time, he may have colic. Doctors don’t really know what causes colic; it’s a catch-all term for inconsolable crying that begins around three weeks of age.
If the neighbor’s baby starts smiling before yours does, you may worry that your bundle of joy is not developing on track. Most of the time, these fears are unfounded: Babies simply mature at different rates and have different temperaments.
By the end of the first month, you may feel more confident in your parenting skills or simply be exhausted — or both! Your hard work pays off as your baby blossoms before your very eyes in this period of rapid growth.
Sears, William and Martha. The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two. 2003. Little, Brown and Company.
Campbell, Stuart, MD. Watch Me Grow: A Unique, 3-Dimensional Week-by-Week Look at Your Baby’s Behavior and Development in the Womb. 2004. St. Martins Press.
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Baby Bouncer. First month: Congratulations on your new baby! September 2000. http://www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/pubs/chfd/CHFD-E-39-01.pdf
American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five. 2009. Bantam Books.
AskDrSears.com. Nutrient by Nutrient Why Breast Is Best. http://www.askdrsears.com/html/2/T020800.asp
Children’s Hospital Boston. Newborn Growth. http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site1721/mainpageS1721P0.html
Nemours Foundation. The Senses and Your Newborn. http://www.kidshealth.org/parent/growth/senses/sensenewborn.html
Saffran JR, Werker JF, and Werner LA. The Infant’s Auditory World: Hearing, Speech, and the Beginnings of Language. Handbook of Child Psychology, Vol. 2, chapter 2. June 2006. John Wiley & Sons.