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Baby Development

Baby Behaviour
Getting ready for a new baby usually means preparing the nursery, stocking up on nappies and baby supplies, buying stacks of cute little outfits and waiting impatiently for your due date to arrive.
For first time parents, there is no way to know exactly what to expect once baby joins the family. Even people with some experience around small children are often amazed at the things they learn once they become parents.
Sleeping and Crying
In the beginning, babies often divide their days between two activities -- sleeping and crying. Newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day, almost always in 1-2 hour stretches. What this means for mum and dad is sleep deprivation, since it is almost impossible to get any real rest with a new baby at home.
Fortunately, within a few months, most babies are giving their parents longer and longer periods of rest and some babies sleep through the night by their third month of life. Parents can expect setbacks though when it comes to sleep patterns, even in babies who seem to be on a set routine. Teething, separation anxiety, ear infections and numerous other factors will undoubtedly awaken your baby at times.
Crying can be an especially difficult behaviour for new parents to cope with. Tiny little people can produce quite a racket! Early on, crying is the only way that babies have to communicate, so they cry for a variety of reasons. Hunger or a messy nappy are the first things that come to mind, but sometimes babies cry for seemingly no reason at all.
This can be very difficult for parents who are operating with very little sleep and want nothing more than to keep their baby happy. After a while, many parents learn to decipher what their baby is trying to tell them by a combination of the sound of their cries and the baby's facial expressions. Sometimes though, babies cry when they are overtired or feeling stressed and after a good nap, they return to being their cheerful selves.
Expressing Opinions
While newborns are typically happy to snuggle with their parents, older babies have definite opinions about what they want to be doing. Some babies are naturally active and will wriggle impatiently if they are held too long.
Instead, they prefer to explore their environment, touching and tasting everything that they come across. Some enjoy relaxing in a swing or playing in their activity centre. One thing is certain - it won't take long for your baby to learn to express opinions!
Teething and Separation Anxiety
Two things that cause plenty of concern for parents during their baby's first year are teething and separation anxiety. Teething can begin in very young babies and can turn an otherwise happy baby into a grumpy baby pretty quickly.
Fortunately, once the first few teeth have emerged (usually between 4-7 months), babies often fare better as additional teeth come in. In the mean time, parents can help teething babies by offering teething rings or frozen washcloths. In cases where the discomfort seems extreme, the GP may advise giving pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Separation anxiety is very common in babies and usually makes its first appearance at around nine months. Babies at this age often show signs of distress when a parent or other caregiver leaves the room. While this is a perfectly normal behaviour, it can be difficult for parents who must sometimes leave their baby to go to work or for other reasons.
The anxiety will pass in time, but is important for parents to cheerfully assure their little one that they will be returning soon. For some babies, snuggling with a comfort item, such as a well-loved toy or blanket, can help during this tough time. Games of peek-a-boo are often helpful as well, since they show baby that a person can "disappear" and "reappear."
As babies become increasingly independent, it is perfectly normal for them to test their limits a bit. Many will hit or push and most will show some possessiveness about their toys and belongings. Fortunately, babies want very much to please their parents and will usually respond well to gentle guidance.
It is important to show older babies how you expect them to behave, but it will take a number of months for them to begin cooperating with behavioural guidelines. Most often, simply redirecting a baby's attention toward a more acceptable behaviour or activity works best. In time, they will learn to share and take turns, but for now, babies do not have the capability to understand these concepts.
Baby's First Steps
Watching their baby take those first few unsteady steps is probably one of a parent's proudest moments. While most parents look forward to that day and try to encourage their baby's efforts at mobility, many wonder when their child will begin walking. The answer is simple -- babies walk when they are ready, and not a moment sooner.
From a Crawler to a Walker
Healthy, active babies find many ways to move about a room. Some roll, some shuffle, some are content to crawl long after their peers are running, and some are up on their feet and walking just when the baby books advise mum and dad that they can expect those first steps. As long as your baby is making progress, there is probably no cause for concern, even if they are slower than expected in getting up and about.
What to Expect
If you read an assortment of baby books, they will likely tell you that babies take their first steps at approximately 12-14 months. In reality, however, your baby may be a proficient walker at nine months or may not take a single step until 16 months (or even later). Neither scenario indicates a problem, merely a natural developmental difference.
Premature babies will typically take a bit longer to reach developmental milestones, walking included. Most doctors advise using a premature baby's due date, rather than their date of birth, in looking for milestones to be achieved. For example, if your baby was born five weeks early, you can expect a five week delay in reaching milestones such as rolling over, crawling, and walking.
Steps Toward that First Step
Babies develop physical abilities so quickly during their first year that parents are often amazed at the rapid transformation. While each step along the way is a milestone in itself, many of those first achievements are helping to prepare babies to walk.
Holding their heads steadily, rolling over, finding the ability to rest on all fours, crawling, and reaching for furniture to pull themselves up to a standing position are all predecessors to walking. Each of those abilities helps to strengthen a baby's muscles and increases their confidence -- both traits that are necessary for walking.
Encouraging First Steps
While there isn't much that you can do to alter your baby's natural timetable, there are a few things that may help ready your baby for walking. Be sure to provide plenty of active play time to encourage the healthy development of muscle tone and coordination. Also, most experts agree that barefoot is best when learning to walk.
Years ago, parents were encouraged to purchase "walking shoes" for babies, but now we know that babies do best when allowed to walk sans shoes. Babies are social beings and enjoy positive interaction with their parents and other caregivers, so be sure to engage your baby, both physically and intellectually, in order to help them to reach their highest potential.
Baby Bravery
Experienced parents will tell you that some babies forge through their developmental milestones fearlessly, while others are naturally a bit cautious. Sometimes, the difference between an early walker and one who waits a few more weeks (or months!) is simply a matter of caution level. Parents can help their babies to gain confidence by walking behind them and holding both of the baby's hands in the beginning. Most babies enjoy exploring their environment in this new, upright way, and will walk with a parent until mum or dad is suffering from an aching back!
Worried Parents
While books and baby experts can offer loads of advice, you know your baby better than anyone. If you are worried about your baby's developmental status, schedule a check up with the doctor. You can take that opportunity to discuss your concerns with the doctor and get individualised feedback.
While there is usually no cause for parental worries, checking with the pediatrician not only eases a parent's fears, but in cases where there is a legitimate developmental delay, early intervention is always best.

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