Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Behaviour

Should I always be entertaining my 15 week old twins, or is it alright to let them play alone?

I am a mother of 15 week old twins and it seems to me that they get bored quite easily. I spend most of the day trying to amuse them and hold and cuddle them. When I leave them to amuse themselves I feel a great sense of guilt and feel like I should be entertaining them. I need your advice, what do babies of this age need? Constant attention or can I leave them for a few hours a day on their backs or in a bouncing chair? When I say alone I mean I would always look after them but if I can be free to do some other tasks that would be helpful.

It is great that you are thinking about this now, as it can be very easy to give constant attention to your babies which may result in them not being able to amuse themselves for even short periods as they get older

Getting the right balance between interacting with them and leaving them for short spells on their own, whilst you are close by, is what you need to aim for.

Babies of this age are capable of amusing themselves with a toy, or on their mat, for about 15- 20 minutes at a time before getting bored and losing interest. This does mean you may not get a lot of tasks done all at once, but can certainly manage to do a few things of your own whilst staying within sight of them. Some babies may need to learn how to do this. Don’t expect it to happen straight away. You may need to build up the time they are left to play alone, but it is worth doing now before they become too used to constant attention.

After they have fed they may enjoy some time under their play gym. Settle them down and interact for a few minutes and then let them explore and discover the toys for themselves. The added bonus of twins is that they will soon discover each other, which will help them stay amused for perhaps slightly longer periods of time. Stay within sight of them, but certainly get on with some other tasks.

After about 15-20minutes you may find they are beginning to sound a little grizzly and bored. If they are not due a nap then change their scene. Take them with you into the kitchen maybe and let them watch you from their chairs. You don’t need to be physically holding or cuddling them to interact. They will love the sound of your voice. Tell them what you are doing as you busy yourself. Just watching you move around and hearing you chat will amuse them. Some mothers do feel a little silly when chatting to their baby who is not yet able to really reply. But this is how communication starts. They will begin to make noises and coos back to you in response to your voice. You can keep this “conversation” going even if busy cooking or cleaning.

What is important at this age is to realize they do have a limited attention span. Unless very placid in character most babies will want some kind of attention every 20 minutes or so. You can break up your day so you do have times of cuddling and holding. You can also begin to share books with them, naming the objects on the page and talking about what you see. Sing or play nursery rhymes and songs to them as well as just holding and cuddling.

Avoid them becoming over stimulated with too many toys and playthings out at one time. This will result in boredom as they will be unable to settle to any one thing if there is too much on display to distract them. Put them under their gym for one period of play and don’t put anything else out near to them. Once they have explored this either take them along with you, if you move to another part of the house, or change their position again and spend some time interacting with them. Then let them have another spell of being on their own with different toys to look at and play with. Perhaps they could be on the floor with a baby mirror and board book propped up where they can see it.

The toys you provide do need to be right for their level. A baby of this age will not be able to cope with an activity center which requires finger dexterity but they will enjoy grabbing at toys suspended above them on their gym. Always consider what they are capable of doing now rather then trying to push them onto the next stage. So many toys are labelled as “stimulating” or “educational” but a baby will learn at his own pace. Providing them with toys which are too advanced for them now will result in frustration and boredom as they are unable to get any value from them. By the time the toy is suitable for their abilities they will be bored with seeing it and may leave it to one side.

Of course you can spend time playing with your babies but try to hold back from always showing them how a toy works. Play is a baby’s work. Through play they learn about the world around them. For your babies, being given the time and space to do this at their own pace is as important as spending time with you. It is for you as a parent to make sure you get this balance right. A baby who is able to amuse himself now for short periods, who is not always looking for attention or wanting to be carried, will continue to be able to do so as he grows and discovers the world around him. Being twins this may be easier as they will always have each other to watch and amuse. A singleton can easily get to rely too much on his mother’s or carer’s attention and be unable to spend time on his own, if he has never been given that opportunity.

Once you see that they are able to play on their own for short periods you will feel less guilty about not being with them all the time. They need to learn how to play on their own as there is nothing worse than a small child who has been constantly attended to and is unable to play, or even think of playing, alone. It is not the child’s fault that they are like this; the opportunity was never given to them at a young age. If you start now, with short periods of time on their own interspersed with your interaction, either with your voice or a spell of you actually playing with them, they will grow up secure both playing alone and with you. When they are playing on their own, observe them at times and see how they are exploring and discovering all of the time. This standing back from a baby is a good habit to get into as you will be more aware of how they are developing and what their changing needs are.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Learning

I have been told to place my newborn baby on her tummy on a daily basis. Why do I need to do this, as she does not seem to enjoy it?

I keep being told I should give my 6 week old son some time on his tummy each day. Why is this and how will it help him? When I tried this with him he looked really uncomfortable. I thought babies were always supposed to be on their backs.

With the current recommendations to let babies sleep on their backs, doctors and health professionals have begun to notice slight developmental delays in rolling, sitting and crawling in a lot of babies.

In order to reach these milestones your baby needs to have plenty of awake time on the floor on his stomach, giving him the opportunity to push himself up on his arms and develop his neck muscles. Being on his stomach also helps strengthen the oesophagus which helps babies who have a tendency to posset after feeds.

Many babies spend a lot of time strapped into baby chairs and car seats which does not allow free kicking and a chance to be on their tummies.

We encourage parents to place their baby on his tummy from early days. Choose a time when he is awake and contented. Top and tail time often works well as the firm surface of his changing mat is an ideal place to try him at first. If done on a daily basis he will become used to being on his front and begin to lift his head for a few seconds. Try putting him on his tummy for a few minutes at a time from the first week and gradually build up the time as the days go by.

By six weeks your baby can spend some playtime on his tummy. When he spends kicking time on the floor or under a gym, turn him onto his front and encourage him to look up by placing a brightly coloured toy, picture or mirror in front of him.

Once your baby is about twelve weeks old and used to being on his tummy he will be happy to spend plenty of time on his front during his waking hours. He will find rolling easier as front to back is an easier movement than back to front. Encourage him to move as much as you can by rolling him from side to side, whilst on his back and on his front. He will probably attempt rolling whilst on his front from quite early on.

There are several activity/play mats on the market which encourage exploration with colours, textures and sounds. Some incorporate a mirror but it is often small and not always at an optimal angle for your baby. Look for a separate mirror which is angled or set into a wedge, encouraging your baby to push up on his arms.

Having plenty of awake time on the floor should be part of every baby’s day. You will see how much enjoyment they get, once up on their forearms and looking around.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Learning

How do I get my baby of almost six months to sit on her own without toppling?

How can I get my baby to sit alone safely? Even with cushions on the floor, I am afraid she will topple and hurt her head. Do I wait until she is ready?

A baby’s muscles are developing from birth. Control starts with the head and moves down the trunk until the body is strong enough to be supported in the sitting position. To help your daughter sit unaided, she needs plenty of practice and encouragement from you. Spending lots of time on her tummy will help her lift her neck and strengthen her back muscles. By four months, she should be able to do mini press-ups using her forearms to lift her head and shoulders off the ground.

From birth you may prop her in a sitting position so she can see a little more of what is going on. A V-shaped cushion or “Boppy” will help support her. Once she begins to show signs of pushing her shoulders and head forward from the cushion, let her practice sitting between your legs. Sit on the floor and place your daughter between your legs so her head and back are against your body. If you can, bring the soles of your feet together making an enclosure for her. Let her arms lie over your legs to give her support. Begin to let go of her for brief moments so she is “sitting” on her own supported by you. This will give her the confidence she needs to learn to sit alone. She may slip to one side but your legs will prevent her from falling right over. Her head may still wobble if she moves suddenly, but with practice her control will get stronger.

Once she is nearing six months, begin to place her within a circle of cushions, using a V or “Boppy” behind her if you have one. Stay close by and make a game of catching her if she begins to topple. Her natural sitting position is on her bottom with her legs out at right angles, so much of her weight is on the backs of her thighs. The knees will be bent and often the soles of the feet touch. This is a good, balanced sitting posture, taking the strain off her lower back and allowing her to breathe well. To begin with, a baby will lean forward and use their hands and arms for support as they sit. By about seven months, however, your daughter will be able to sit up and use her hands to hold toys and play. At this stage, her head control will allow her to look around without losing her balance.

Until you are sure she is well balanced and able to twist and turn safely, keep her within her cushions and stay within reach. Any falls that do happen may surprise her, but she will be falling into something soft. A gentle “all fall down, up we come” will take away any anxiety and she will be willing to try again. Do enjoy this stage, as encouraging your daughter to sit alone can be fun for both of you.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Learning

My son of 3.5 mths seems unable to hold a toy in his hand yet. Should I be concerned?

Matthew, who is three and a half months old, seems unable to hold anything in his hands yet. He has plenty of rattles and toys, but drops them soon after we have put them into his hand. Nor does he look for a toy once it has fallen to the floor. Is this normal? When will he be able to play with toys by himself?

At birth, Matthew had an innate grasping reflex. You will probably recall how he held on to your little finger with an intense grip. At that stage, his hands remained curled into fists for most of the time, unless you stroked them to open his fingers. He was able to grasp an object, but was not developed enough to realise he was doing so. It was just the stimulation of something in his hand that caused him to hold on.

It takes almost a year for a baby to develop enough co-ordination between his hand and eye to see a toy, pick it up and hold it. Learning to grab and grasp are the first stages in this complex sequence. Once a baby has learned to grasp and hold a toy, he will then learn how to play with it. Eventually he will use this same skill to hold a spoon and feed himself, or hold a pencil to draw.

Let Matthew spend plenty of time on the floor under a floor gym. You could enhance one you already have by adding spirals of sparkly paper, or ribbons attached securely to small bells. This will encourage him firstly to “bat” at the toys and then, as his hand to eye co-ordination develops, to reach for them.

Alternatively, hold up a brightly coloured toy and encourage Matthew to grab for it. By four months he will begin to reach out for something when encouraged, but don’t let him become frustrated by holding it too far away – the object is to let him reach it and hold on to it. Between four and eight months, he will get better at grasping and holding larger objects, such as rattles and bricks.

Smaller objects need finger dexterity, which comes later. First of all he will ” rake” an object towards him on a flat surface. By five months he will be able to hold on better to objects he has grasped and begin to look for them when dropped. At his present age, however, Matthew forgets about an item as soon as it is out of sight. You can, however, work on this by asking, “where’s the car?” and looking down at the toy. Playing peek-a-boo behind a scarf will also help him to understand that things are still there, even if he can’t see them. By six months, Matthew will be on the way to using both hands to play with his toys.

Enjoy encouraging Matthew in the ways suggested, but remember, as with all stages of development, every baby is different and cannot be rushed.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Learning

When can I expect my 5 week old baby to smile at us? When can I expect my 5 week old baby to smile at us? I am sure he does smile but my mother dismisses it as wind. At times I feel he does look at me knowing who I am but no smile shows so maybe he is not really sure who we are yet.

You are probably right in thinking that he does already look at you with recognition in his eyes, as many babies do this before they learn how to control their facial muscles to form a smile. The kind of smiles your mother dismisses as “wind” probably are as they will involve just his mouth rather than his whole face.

From birth, you will have been looking at your son’s face whilst you feed him. Whether at the breast or having a bottle, his face will be close to yours and at each feed time he will be staring intently at your face and will sense when you are smiling at him. You will know when he does smile properly, as his eyes will light up and he will smile while watching your face. This normally happens around the sixth week, although it might be earlier or later than this; you may be asked if he is smiling at his 6-8 week check, as it is considered a developmental milestone. Some babies do smile more than others; personality and character are factors in this, but it does help if a baby sees lots of smiling faces.

Sleeping FAQ: 4-6 Months – Lunchtime Nap

My 5.5mth son has never slept well at lunchtime. He is now waking up after 20-25minutes

My son has never slept well at the lunchtime nap and is now waking up after 20-25 mins and screaming. Nothing will get him back to sleep. It is driving me utterly insane. I have tried everything in the books and case studies. It is now affecting my whole day and I have come to dread lunchtimes. It is also affecting my older child who misses out on having any time at all with me on our own during the day. We used to at least sit down to lunch together but now don’t even manage that.
What can I do?

My son feeds at 6.15am 5-6ozs, 7.30am baby cereal mixed with 1oz formula, 10.30am 4ozs, 11.15am 3 cubes of vegetables[ with a struggle] consisting of 2 sweet potato and one other vegetable. 12midday 2oz top up. 2.15pm 3-4ozs, 5pm 4ozs, 2 cubes of fruit mixed with 1oz formula and baby rice, 6.15pm 2-3ozs and 11pm 5ozs. He weighs 15.5lbs.

He naps at 9.15-9.45am, 12.15-12.45pm and 3-3.30pm. He settles at 6.30pm.

You feel that you have tried everything that has been suggested for the lunchtime nap. Have you given each and every method a fair trial? This means at least two weeks of trying something, such as walking him in his pram during this nap or holding him for the whole two hour stretch, which will reset his sleep cycles. Neither of these methods is easy when you are caring for another child but it does take both consistency and persistence to get this nap into place.

Hunger is often at the root of the problem and many mothers on the site will say their baby only slept through well through the lunchtime nape once protein was introduced into the baby’s diet.

You say that your son does struggle with his lunchtime solids and he is only drinking 6ozs of milk at this time, 4ozs before the solids and 2ozs at the top up. How long has he been having breakfast cereal? Was he really showing all the signs of needing breakfast? Was he was really hungry long before the 11am feed? Try cutting back on his breakfast solids and see if he is able to take 5ozs before his lunchtime vegetables and at least another 2ozs before going down to nap at lunchtime. Although he was weaned at 17 weeks his solid intake is still quite small for this stage. His lunchtime solids should really be a little higher before beginning to introduce too much breakfast. When breakfast cereal is given in the weaning plan it is assumed a baby is taking 4-5 cubes at lunchtime. [Page25 onwards in the Weaning Guide]. His milk intake could possibly increase a little as well. Was he having full feeds of 8ozs before he started to wean?

Being over tired is another problem which can cause a restless sleep. Many babies of this age are ready to sleep by midday. Moving his lunch and naptime to 15 minutes earlier may help him to settle better.

You may feel that you have tried both giving him more milk and an earlier naptime and still see no results. If you have tried both of these for at least two weeks, and there seems to be no improvement at all, then accept that your son may be one of the few who don’t manage this longer sleep. If he naps and wakes, unable to settle again within a reasonable time, get him up and let him sit with you in his chair. If he really does not need to nap at this time he will be content to do this. Allow him to have another nap of 45 minutes straight after his 2.15pm feed. Some babies who do this may need another catnap of 15minutes just before 5pm to get them through tea, bath and bedtime without becoming exhausted.

It is difficult when you want to spend some time alone with your older child but try to find a way to make this time more acceptable to you all than listening to a crying baby. If that means your youngest son joins you at lunchtime, happy to watch you both, it will be far less stressful than listening to him cry.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Smile?

When can I expect my 5 week old baby to smile at us? When can I expect my 5 week old baby to smile at us? I am sure he does smile but my mother dismisses it as wind. At times I feel he does look at me knowing who I am but no smile shows so maybe he is not really sure who we are yet.

You are probably right in thinking that he does already look at you with recognition in his eyes, as many babies do this before they learn how to control their facial muscles to form a smile. The kind of smiles your mother dismisses as “wind” probably are as they will involve just his mouth rather than his whole face.

From birth, you will have been looking at your son’s face whilst you feed him. Whether at the breast or having a bottle, his face will be close to yours and at each feed time he will be staring intently at your face and will sense when you are smiling at him. You will know when he does smile properly, as his eyes will light up and he will smile while watching your face. This normally happens around the sixth week, although it might be earlier or later than this; you may be asked if he is smiling at his 6-8 week check, as it is considered a developmental milestone. Some babies do smile more than others; personality and character are factors in this, but it does help if a baby sees lots of smiling faces.