At six-months-old, your baby is rapidly developing with new skills!
It’s Memorial Day weekend and your parents have decided to visit with you, your spouse, and little six-month-old Maggie. The trip from the east side of the state is two hours long but they are here, ringing the doorbell and excited to see their two favorite girls. You exclaim to Maggie that Nana and Papa are here, but she just looks at you. You pick up Maggie and upon opening the front door, you feel your heart fill with joy as you haven’t seen your parents in a couple of months. Nana flashes a huge smile, opens her arms and with a long, melodic “Hello” gives you a hug and takes Maggie. Papa relishes the moment as he sees Maggie smile, hold her neck and trunk steady while she uses her right hand to touch Nana’s face and then proceeds to bounce up and down in Nana’s arms.
The joys and wonders of a six-month-old are hard to measure. You just simply feel it in your heart and wonder how did she so quickly come to be this person that just six months ago was a bundle of joy that cried for milk and very quickly went back to sleep. Not only did she double her birth weight at four months of age and grew in length an extra six inches, but her brain has been multiplying nerve cells at a very rapid pace, also hard to measure.
The bond that you and your spouse have created with Maggie feels comfortable and secure, one that has been building since she was born. Whereas those initial days were fraught with fatigue, insecurity with not knowing what to do, and sometimes reacting in a panic, uncertain if her cry signaled a real hurt or she was just tired and ornery, you both now communicate with real purpose on how to take care of her and how to plan for the day. You both have now grown as a couple and feel more comfortable in your roles as parents. Interestingly enough, Maggie has picked up that you communicate with each other using words and facial expressions.
Speech development begins to manifest itself around four to six weeks of age with cooing. You probably remember how exhausted you felt that first month where all she did was wake up, cry, have her diaper changed, feed, burp and then she was back to sleep. After about two to four hours of sleeping, the cycle would repeat itself… 24 hours a day! You are giving and giving, and gradually become physically and emotionally tired from the lack of good sleep. Then, one day around four to six weeks of age, she socially smiles at you and coos. She is now giving back to you, and it feels wonderful! And so begins your mutual interaction where sometimes it felt like she was telling you of her wonderful day by rhythmically cooing in a sweet melodic tune.
Around four months of age, you might remember, she began to make “raspberry” sounds and spewing spit as she exercised her lips, her diaphragm, and her lungs to make sounds. By six months, she has now started to put two syllable words together without any special, social connotation: da-da-da-da, mum-mum-mum-mum or ba-ba-ba-ba. What’s interesting is that you have gotten excited by her calling out mum-mum-mum. She gradually will make a mental note that she gets your attention when she says that and will later, by nine months to one year of age, give a social meaning to it, and so begins the building of her vocabulary.
Another interesting aspect of her using her voice (with crying) is that she is cognitively learning how to solve problems. When crying at first was used as a means of survival (I am hungry), now she has been using it to get your attention. At this age, Maggie is beginning to expect responses from you and your spouse when she cries. In addition, she is learning that she can produce a response from either of you when she cries. Have you heard her “fake cry?” It is good to use proper language with the right tone when you respond to her, rather than talking down to her in a “baby voice.” She will learn to speak more clearly this way.
In addition to using her voice, she has been using her hands to better explore objects. She must mouth and taste them to begin to form concepts in her brain as to what these things are. She likes to touch or grab everything.
The world around her is very interesting as her vision has improved. A newborn’s vision is about 20/400 so they can perceive light, but everything is very blurry. Slowly they begin to form concepts in their brain about straight lines and round objects, to what is dark and bright, to eventually conceptualize objects in their brains. By 6 months of age, their vision is 20/20 and they can see clearly. You may have noticed how difficult it is to change her diaper as she wants to roll to grab a toy or grab your necklace. How about doing baths? Aren’t they so slippery when slathered with soap and they try to check the washcloth? Always a good idea to keep one hand on her for safety while you are trying to do something with her.
With improved vision and having had six months to form a strong bond with you, she has started to recognize you as the person who is there to save the day! In addition, with all her touching, she has been curious about your face, eyes, ears, nose, and lips to begin to form personal awareness. This is the beginning of “object permanence” where you could disappear for a moment, and she knows you are just around the corner. Along with this concept, she will soon start to experience “stranger anxiety” when seeing other people (especially if they want to hold her) and may start protesting when you have these separations.
Along with her interest to investigate everything comes her desire to acquire these objects. Movement, and the progression of gross motor development, goes in a very predictable fashion from the head down to the toes. First, muscle strength and coordination began at the neck and by four months of age, you might remember, you could pull her up from laying on her back and she did not have any more head lag. In addition, if you placed her on her tummy, she could put weight on her elbows and raise up her neck. The chest was off the table a little, but her stomach was flat on the table. Now, at six months, she can push up with her hands and raise her chest and tummy, but her pelvis and legs are flat on the floor. She has learned to “army crawl” or creep. If you stand her up, she stiffens her legs and pretends to jump, although her feet never leave the ground. Rolling over was a reflex at four months, sometimes startling her, but she does it now routinely. You can prop her up in a sitting position, but she does need her arms to “tripod” herself. If she tries to reach for an object, she falls easily because the tripod fell apart. She is not able to get to a sitting position by herself, but she will soon learn around nine months of age how to sit up by herself when she has learned how to crawl.
Her life is filled with frustration as she continues to exercise daily trying to accomplish these milestones, but it is in a way, a “happy frustration” because she is meeting goals. As part of this wonderful bond, you have formed with her, you have learned to be sensitive to her needs and know when to come to her aid when she seems defeated.
Touching and grabbing to form concepts in her brain has been part of her development since birth. To develop her fine motor skills, however, she first had to get rid of her “primitive reflexes,” reflexes that she was born with, including the grasp reflex. By two months of age, she started to open her hands and was transferring objects from one hand to the other by four months of age. When she grabs objects, she uses the “rake” approach where she uses all her fingers and hand to grab an object. It will be exciting for you when she is around nine months of age, and you see her using her thumb and index finger as a pincer grasp to get an object.
So now that you are done reminiscing about her development for the past six months, it’s time to enjoy your visit with your parents. We hope you have a nice Memorial Day weekend!
A health article from Dr. John Spitzer, a pediatrician at Bronson Primary Care Partners (first published on the Bronson Health web site)