Understanding your baby’s changing emotional and developmental needs

Understand and manage your baby's changing emotional and develomental needs. By Sr Ann Richardson

Because babies develop quickly, their physical and emotional needs are constantly changing too. While newborns are unpredictable and don’t have a routine, an older baby will finally sleep for longer stretches at night, and develop a more predictable routine – and yes, you will breathe a sigh of relief. Then, for no obvious reason, everything changes.

Here’s how the scenario is likely  to shift from newborn to toddler and ways to cope:

2-4 weeks

Your newborn has been sleepy for most of the past two weeks, waking for feeds and a quick cuddle and then drifting off again. You’ve been able to take things fairly easy, your partner is at home with you and taking care of all the chores, and you think that parenting is a cinch.

Suddenly, your little baby wakes and spends more time fussing. The novelty of night feeds and the endless round of nappies isn’t appealing anymore, and you’re tired. The honeymoon is over. This is the normal stage of development when your baby ‘wakes up’ and starts to interact with his world.

Tips for the 2-4 week gearshift: 

  • Learn to sleep when your baby sleeps.
  • Be reasonable about what you can handle in a day.
  • Expect a growth spurt around the four-week mark and feed your baby frequently if necessary.
  • Growth spurts last about 24 hours.
  • Check his weight gain at the clinic to rule out medical or digestive issues.

5 – 6 weeks

You survived the second week wobble, got through the fourth week growth spurt, and have learned to sleep when your baby sleeps. Now begins another common time for your baby to change gear. Research shows  that restlessness and crying usually peak at around six weeks. Babies become alert and enjoy spending more time awake in their surroundings. This means that you run the risk of overstimulating your baby, causing fussy behaviour and resistance to sleep.

Tips for the 5-6 week gearshift

  • Keep an eye on how long your baby is awake for.
  • At these times, prevent overstimulation and try to keep the environment calm and serene.
  • Settle him into an established rhythm.

ALSO SEE: Look out for these signs of a growth spurt

4 months

Your baby may wake more frequently, especially at night, and will not settle unless he has a feed.  This sudden waking and restlessness often coincides with your baby’s weight at around 7kg and can be a sign that milk alone is not satisfying his nutritional needs.

Tips for the 4-month gearshift

  • It’s safe to introduce solid food if he’s older than 17 weeks and your doctor approves.
  • New research shows that introducing solid food now doesn’t contribute to allergies.
  • Don’t despair if your little one refuses a milk feed between breakfast and lunch.

ALSO SEE: Signs that your baby is hungry

6 months 

It’s a common problem that babies wake more frequently at night demanding feeds. If he’s not yet eating solid food, or eats only fruit, cereal, and vegetables, he’ll wake up hungry at night and could be unsettled during the day.

Tips for the 6-month gearshift

  • Introduce protein in the form of dairy, cooked and puréed meat, chicken, eggs, nut butters, ground nuts,
    seeds, beans, and pulses.
  • It’s normal for him to demand three milk feeds – on waking, lunch, and bedtime.

ALSO SEE: Your guide to introducing solids to your little one

9 months 

Most babies start teething now. Some cruise through teething, while others struggle with restlessness, upset tummies and fevers.

ALSO SEE: Your teething guide

Separation anxiety peaks and your happy and outgoing little one suddenly becomes clingy, anxious with strangers, or cries when you’re out of sight. This is a normal stage of development and will pass.

 ALSO SEE: Ages and stages of separation anxiety

Tips for the 9-month gearshift

  • Ask your clinic sister or pharmacist to recommend a teething remedy.
  • Let your baby chew on cold, soothing objects.
  • Play peekaboo to encourage healthy separation.

1 year 

Your baby’s mood could change now. He’s learning autonomy and the art of the temper tantrum. If he resists his afternoon sleep, it’s normal. Seek advice so that you know how to reduce his nap times.

ALSO SEE: How to reduce your little one’s nap times

Tips for the 1-year gearshift

  • Keep boundaries in place around behaviour, feeding, and sleeping.
  • Teach him there are conseqences to behaviour.
  • If he’s dropped the afternoon sleep, change the bedroom routine to an hour earlier to prevent the inevitable evening meltdown.


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