Infant development begins at birth. Whether it’s Kate and Will’s mini-me, or a Hollywood celebrity’s bub-in-waiting, he or she will have the same skills and reflexes as any other baby. And it’s incredible what a newborn — royal or not — can do in those early stages of development.
Thanks to innate reflexes, your newborn is already making spontaneous movements to build muscle tone and develop his nervous system. One of the first tests that your paediatrician will check for, right after birth, is his startle reflex. This is to ensure that his arm muscles have developed.
What can you do Ensure he has regular supervised tummy time when he is awake — three or four sessions of five minutes each day — as it encourages him to push his chest up with his arms.
Rooting and sucking are two other key reflexes — hugely important given that your baby's ability to survive is totally dependent on him feeding. When you touch your baby's cheek, he'll automatically turn towards your hand and start to "root".
What can you do If you're breastfeeding and your baby doesn't instinctively want to feed, put your nipple near the top of his mouth, just under his nose. The nipple has glands that release a special scent that hungry babies find irresistible, according to French researchers.
In the initial months, your newborn’s tongue automatically moves forward when his lips are touched. This tongue-thrust reflex aids him when he's feeding from the breast or bottle, but not when it comes to solid foods. While this reflex is often mistaken for a dislike of food, it actually indicates that your peewee is not ready for solids. The reflex gradually diminishes between four and six months.
What can you do This reflex is a good indication of when your baby is ready to start solid food. Don't force the spoon into his mouth if the reflex is still strong. Wait a few weeks and try again.
Think your baby's months away from walking? Not so. According to experts, your baby will make a walking or stepping motion if you carefully support him under his arms, lean him forward and lower his feet onto a hard, flat surface. This reflex, however, disappears after two months and is probably a throwback to when we were apes and had to get onto our feet within hours of birth.
What can you do Once the stepping reflex disappears, stand your baby on your lap facing you, holding him securely under his armpits. Encourage him to bounce up and down using his legs to increase muscle strength.
One of the sweetest reflexes your newborn will demonstrate is the palmar or grasping reflex. Touch your thumb or finger to the palm of your baby's hand and he'll immediately grip it. A similar reaction, known as the plantar reflex, also happens if you press the sole of his foot. He'll curl his toes round your fingers.
What can you do Work on your baby's grip by giving him a cuddly toy or squishy ball to squeeze. Or choose a rattle with a thin handle that he can practise holding.
Strengthening his neck
If you place your baby on his back, he will look like a little fencer — his head will turn with the arm and leg of one side extended, with the other arm and leg flexed. This reflex (also known as the asymmetric tonic neck reflex) apparently helps to prevent him from rolling onto his stomach. Some researchers say that it also stimulates hand-eye coordination. This reflex disappears when your baby begins to roll over, or at about 6 months of age.
What can you do Giving junior supervised tummy time will help him strengthen the muscles and gain the coordination to be able to make his first flip.
In a healthy newborn, it's normal to lose up to 10 per cent of his original body weight after birth (unless he's formula-fed from birth) but he should regain it within the first 10 days. Your baby is born with extra fat for him to survive on for the first couple of days until your breastmilk comes in.
What can you do If your baby isn't back to his birth weight in this time, he may be having trouble latching on during breastfeeding. Seek advice from a lactation consultant.
Learning to focus
When your baby is born, you may notice he stares intently at you — newborns can only focus about 20cm, which is around the distance between you and your baby when you hold him. His vision will improve over the months and, by age 1, he should be able to see clearly.
What can you do A newborn's colour perception isn't that strong, so give your baby black, white and red toys to play with as he'll respond best to strongly contrasting colours.
Bonding with baby
Your newborn will thrive on cuddles, and one of the best ways to do this is through skin-to-skin contact. Unless you've had a Caesarean, your baby is usually placed onto your chest immediately after birth. Skin-to-skin touch reduces levels of Cortisol (a stress hormone present in your baby's bloodstream), and increases levels of the feel-good hormone, oxytocin. Plus, it colonises your baby's skin with bacteria from yours, which boosts his immunity and reduces the risk of him developing allergies later in life.
What can you do Enjoy regular topless cuddles to enhance your bonding-together experience even more.