Infant Cognitive Development Milestones & Activities

Cognitive Development in Infants (0 to 1 Year)

As parents, you may keep wondering what your baby may be thinking and understanding until he actually starts speaking. How do you establish what’s going on inside your baby’s mind and how he perceives the world? Here, in this article, we shall discuss everything about cognitive development in infants and the various important milestones babies go through.

What Is Cognitive Development?

When a baby is born, his basic survival instincts are in place that is he can feed, sleep, cry and poop. But how do you know what is happening inside your baby’s brain? Your baby’s physical aspects are evident, and you can measure them, too. This includes your baby’s height and weight. But, your baby takes time to understand language, perception, memory and physical coordination, and these contribute towards your baby’s cognition. In other words, the process that involves learning these skills is called cognitive development.

When Does It Start?

A certain piece of music or song you played when you were pregnant would make your baby react, even inside the womb. This means that the baby’s brain begins functioning even before he is born. After birth, when you play the same song or tune, your baby may react to it, but at that age, he does not have the ability to remember, although he will master this ability over a few months.

You can try an activity to check if your baby remembers what he learns after a few days. You can tie a toy with a string to your baby’s foot such that when he kicks, the toy moves back and forth. However, after a few days, your baby will forget that his kicking moves the toy. This is a very common phenomenon for a two-month-old baby. However, at six months of age, your baby will develop a better memory and may remember what he can do, for a couple of weeks.

Around six months of age, your baby may use actions to show what he wants and may even start pointing towards various objects of interest. By this age, he also knows that a car makes a distinctive sound and how a dog barks.

However, recalling comes a little late to babies. So, if you are wondering whether your six-month-old baby is missing his particular toy at home when you are out with him, it may not be the case.

Baby Cognitive Development Milestones

A mother playing with her baby

In earlier times, parents did not pay heed to their babies’ cognitive developmental skills because they thought that babies start understanding much later in life. But that is not the case, and in today’s generation, parents are more aware, and they understand that a baby’s intellect cannot be neglected. Babies are constantly observing and learning from their surroundings. They assimilate and process the information at different degrees from birth until one year of age. Here’s how cognitive development takes place from birth to 12 months of age in babies:

1. From Birth to 3 Months

Infants can differentiate among patterns, colours, and consonants. They can recognise facial expressions, for example, smiles, as similar, even when they appear on different faces. They can also match abstract properties of stimuli, such as intensity, contour, or temporal pattern, across sensory modalities.

Infants at two months of age can discriminate rhythmic patterns languages (in native vs non-native). They appear to be seeking stimuli actively as if they want to satisfy an innate need to make sense of the world around them. This denotes the integration of sensory inputs in the central nervous system.

Also, caretaking activities provide tactile, visual, olfactory, and auditory stimuli, all of which support cognitive development. Infants habituate to familiar things and people, attend less to repeated stimuli, and increase their attention to novel stimuli.

Milestones Achieved During This Period

Here are some cognitive developmental milestones that your baby may achieve from birth to three months of age:

  • Your baby is able to see things which are approximately 12 to 13 inches away from his eyes.
  • Your baby may begin focusing on moving objects and also on people around him.
  • Your baby is able to establish the difference between volume and pitch.
  • Your baby is able to differentiate between various tastes such as bitter, sweet, salty and sour.
  • Your baby may display anticipatory behaviour like sucking at the site of the mother’s nipples or bottle.
  • Your baby is able to see all colours that a normal human can see.
  • Your baby may respond to various facial expressions.

2. From 3 to 6 Months

By 3 to 6 months of age, your baby comes to his next benchmark of achieving various cognitive milestones, which majorly involves more knowledge and understanding of perception.

The overall effect of these developments in babies is a qualitative change. When babies turn four months old, they are described as “hatching” socially because they become interested in the wider world around them. They no longer focus exclusively on the mother during feeding and become distracted. They may literally turn around in their mothers’ arms and prefer to face outward.

At this age, babies also explore their own bodies. They stare intently at their hands and fingers, vocalise sounds, blow bubbles, and touching their cheeks, ears, and even genitals. This is their stage of understanding cause and effect as they learn that voluntary muscle movements generate predictable visual and tactile sensations.

A sense of self separate from the mother also emerges around this time. It can be termed as the first stage of personality development in infants. They come to associate certain sensations through frequent repetition. The feeling of holding up the hand and wiggling the fingers always accompanies the sight of the fingers moving. The baby consistently links such self sensations and starts reproducing them at will.

On the other hand, the “other” sensations occur with less regularity and in varying combinations. The mother’s feel, sound, and smell of sometimes appear promptly in response to crying, but at times, they do not. The satisfaction that babies get from their mothers or caregivers continues the process of attachment.

Milestones Achieved During This Period

Here are some cognitive developmental milestones that your 3 to 6 months old baby may achieve:

  • Your baby will react and respond to the facial expressions of people around him.
  • Your baby will recognise people whom he meets on a regular basis, such as your close friends or your house help.
  • Your baby, by this age, may try and imitate facial actions or expressions.
  • Your baby will recognise familiar sounds and also known voices.

3. From 6 to 9 Months

Around this age, you will find your baby more alert and aware than before. He is a keen observer and will pay heed to his surroundings. It is not easy to establish what your baby may be thinking and interpreting, and there is no tool to establish the same, but your baby may start doing some of the following things.

Milestones Achieved During This Period

Following are some of the cognitive-developmental milestones that your 6 to 9 months old baby may achieve:

  • At six months, your infant has discovered his hands and will soon learn to manipulate objects. He will mouth everything at first, but in time, he will pick up, inspect, pass from hand to hand, bang, drop and then mouth novel objects.
  • Your baby may be able to establish the relative size of a particular object and how far it is from him.
  • Your baby may be able to distinguish between animate and inanimate objects.
  • Your baby may be able to focus on much complex visual images, for example, focus on something midair.
  • Your baby may be able to identify the pictures depicting different kinds and a different number of objects.

4. From 9 to 12 Months

Your toddler is much more physically independent by this time. He can reach various places, touch and feel various objects and understand them. Apart from achieving various physical milestones, your baby has developed a much better understanding of the things around him.

At this stage, the major milestone for babies is “object constancy”; which means the understanding that objects continue to exist, even when they are not seen.

At 4-7 months of age, infants look down for a toy or an object that has been dropped but quickly give up if they do not see it. Older infants, on the other hand, persist in searching as they understand object constancy. They will find objects hidden under a basket, under a cloth or behind someone’s back.

This is, therefore, the right age for playing peek-a-boo as it brings immense pleasure to the baby. At this stage, the events seem to occur as a result of the child’s own activities.

Milestones Achieved During This Period

As your baby is all set to celebrate his first birthday, here are some of the common cognitive developmental skills that he may have mastered by this age:

  • Your baby understands gestures and actions of people around him and even responds in the same manner.
  • Your baby will make use of various sounds and gesture to communicate.
  • Your baby may understand and know about object permanence, which means the object continues to exist even if you do not see it.
  • Your baby will try to manipulate various objects and even his toys. He will put one toy on another and try various other things.

As a parent, you play an important role in helping your baby to achieve various cognitive milestones. However, every baby is different and may make progress at his own sweet pace. Therefore, there is no need to panic and let your baby achieve the milestones at his own speed.

What If There Is a Delay in the Cognitive Development of Your Child?

Sometimes due to certain reasons, there may be a delay in the cognitive development of your baby and some of the reasons are as follows:

  • In case your baby is a preterm or premature baby, he may take some time to demonstrate cognitive development.
  • If your baby has had a major illness, there may be a delay in achieving various milestones.

You can help your baby achieve the basic milestones, but you cannot force him to do so. You can try some cognitive development activities for infants to help your little one achieve various milestones.

Activities to Improve Your Baby’s Cognitive Development

Here are some activities that you may help improve your baby’s cognitive development:

1. Get Some Music in Life

Babies love music, and what better than learning through a medium that involves melody. Play some baby rhymes and sing along. Music not only soothes and provides relaxation but is a fun way of learning, too. When you sing, your baby will also try and hum along. This activity will help memory and word recognition in babies.

2. Fun With Colours and Shapes

Vibrant and colourful things attract babies’ attention. You can take toys in geometrical shapes, such as circles, triangles, and squares in various colours and keep repeating the colour and shape of the object. Your baby, at some point, will start remembering these toys.

3. Fun With Noises and Sounds

Help your baby identify and know about various sounds and noises that are heard through the day, such as the sound of the chirping bird, car, train, etc.

4. Reading Time

Reading is very good for children even when they cannot read on their own. Babies love to see vibrant pictures and enjoy listening to you. This is a great way of learning a language.

5. Bath Fun

Give a variety of bath toys to your baby to play with. Let your baby float, dunk, and measure with the toys.

Each baby develops at his own pace. If your baby and your friend’s baby are of the same age, and he does something that your baby cannot do, there is no need to compare and panic unnecessarily. Every baby is unique and special in his own way. As parents, you should understand and appreciate that. However, if you see your baby experience developmental delay, you should get in touch with a doctor to understand the reason and take necessary actions.

Also Read: Baby Sign Language

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