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Now that Jupiter is almost 6 months old it’s crazy to think how fast time has flown by. She’s already sitting up, playing with her toes, rolling over and about to start eating solids! As you know, I struggled with breastfeeding – it wasn’t for me – and she has been on Enfamil formula since the beginning, and it’s made our lives so much easier. It cut out so much stress knowing there are options out there that help my baby get all the nutrients she needs. As an Enfamil baby myself, it gives me peace of mind knowing that Jupiter’s development and immune health are supported, just like mine were. She just started to hold her bottle and it’s so cute because she is always so excited for it, which makes me happy. It wasn’t an easy a journey to get here, but nothing makes me happier than seeing her happy.
I love my time with Jupiter, playing with her, laying with her on the playmate, basically any activity where I can be with her. To ensure we’re making the most of ‘playtime’ and supporting Jupiter’s growth, I wanted to learn more about infant development activities. I spoke with Dr. Mona Amin, a pediatrician and health care provider who shares health and wellness tips for children. We spoke about infant development: what ‘cognitive development’ means, how to play, and what you should do if you’re stressed about development milestones.
Q&A with Dr. Mona Amin, Pediatrician and Enfamil’s Infant Development Expert
How do you support baby’s brain health and what are some of the top concerns parents usually have about their baby’s cognitive development?
In their first year, your baby is full of wonder – they find the world silly, hilarious, and fascinating – everything is new to them. These first moments are critical to a baby’s cognitive development and growth. One of the questions parents ask me most is ‘Am I doing this right?’. I always tell them that the fact that you are asking me this question, means that you are. You care. You are responsive to your baby.
Cognitive development is equally important to Enfamil and its family of formulas, because of this, I’ve partnered with them to share insight on the activities to practice that help promote brain building in babies early on. The first three months is about being responsive and understanding their wants and how they are perceiving the world—that is cognitive development. To maximize this window of development, your baby’s brain needs to be nourished. Foster growth in your baby’s brain by:
- Practicing tracking objects, such as toys or household items, like keys, when they begin to look around more
- Using black/white contrast in the newborn period when they’re awake to help build their visual development
- Allowing them to grab safe objects from your hand or far away and place in their mouth to encourage discovery and promote their motor skills
- Allowing them to feel different textures from an early age
- Making facial expressions back when they make them to you as this helps them learn cause and effect
- Reading to them – reading to your baby helps support all domains
These exercises foster growth in each of the infant development domains: Motor/physical skills, social/emotional, communication/language, and cognition/learning. Baby’s overall development supports their brain health by fostering those connections in the brain involved in learning and memory. Exercising each of these domains through the activities listed above will help support your baby’s overall growth.
What activities or toys/objects do you recommend using to pique your baby’s attention? Are there any special toys? As your baby gets older, how does free play and sensory exploration exercise the brain?
Infant development doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive. Parents can engage baby’s body and brain through activities or everyday household items. There are several toys designed for infant development, and I encourage you to research what you want to introduce to your baby. However, maximizing cognitive development can involve any items, like soft key rings, that hold baby’s attention. As I mentioned previously, even just using your face is enough! Make sure you smile at them, coo at them and be affectionate.
Free play is also essential because it builds independence and self-confidence: by doing something on their own, they work their brains and figure it out for themselves. They don’t need us, parents, to always show them how a toy works. Sometimes they can figure it out on their own. I practice pausing in play, which means when they are playing with something new, I pause and let them figure it out before I help them. Start this from a young age and, as they get older, you will see their independence flourish. By allowing them to free play, you’re allowing them to discover the world on their own, while simultaneously assuring them that you’re there for safety and encouragement.
Do parents need to constantly entertain their baby to ensure positive cognitive development?
Not at all! Finding the right balance is key. It’s important to have your baby do interactive and independent activities to promote cognitive development in their first few months. This would mean allowing baby to learn through exploring the world around her, both inside and outside, paving the way for better stimulation.
It’s crucial for them to understand how we are responsive to them, but as they begin to figure out the world, you can put them in tummy time and have them look at themselves in a mirror or at a toy to foster their curiosity and build cognition. They can look at themselves then back at the toys and see how things work and move. You can be nearby, narrating what they’re seeing and incorporate some self-play with interactive play.
Is it normal for baby not to hit all their milestones right when they’re ‘supposed’ to? How closely should parents be tracking their babies’ milestones?
Milestone anxiety is real, and parents often come to me concerned about the development of their child. Perhaps they are worried their child isn’t meeting a certain milestone on time, that their child may need intervention of some kind or that they are not doing enough to engage with their child.
If you’re feeling anxious as a parent and concerned about your baby’s development, keep in mind –
- A certain development activity (such as sitting) has a range of normal. The milestone age is used as a reference for when we would expect that activity by. However, meeting it later isn’t always a cause for concern. For example, at 18-months, we hope that a toddler would have at least 10 words. However, if an 18-month-old has only 5 words, a conversation is had with the child’s clinician looking at the overall development to see if they are progressing elsewhere.
- Milestones are used to monitor a child and a “diagnosis” is of benefit to the child. Many parents worry that if their child isn’t meeting a certain milestone that they will be recommended to see a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech therapist. When looking at development, remember that we want the best trajectory for the child in front of us. This isn’t a comparison with other children. Every child is unique and will meet certain milestones on their own time.
- Milestones do not define you as a parent. You are a great parent regardless of what your child is accomplishing in terms of milestones! One of the goals of milestone education is to teach parents how to engage with their baby month by month, but also what to monitor when it comes to concerns. It’s important to look at the big picture of a baby. The big picture takes into account all domains: social/emotional, language/communication, cognitive/learning, and motor/physical.
When looking at development, I encourage you to truly focus on your child. When we begin to compare our children to what other children are doing, we get into a race to reach a milestone which can negatively impact our interactions with our child. To learn more about Milestone Anxiety, check out my article on Enfamil.com, ‘Combatting Milestone Anxiety’.