3 to 6 months Developmental summary


What's going on for baby?

How can parents and whānau help?


From very early on, a baby is learning to communicate. They’ll explore what sounds they can make with their lips, and may learn to blow raspberries, gurgle and coo, and make simple sounds like ‘ba’, ‘pa’, ‘ma’ and ‘da’.

They’re also learning the sounds of the languages people speak around them, and may begin to recognise the name of someone or something they have heard often. This will include their own name, and they may show recognition by turning when they hear it.

  • Listen to baby and copy their sounds, so baby is encouraged to keep communicating with mum and dad.
  • Use ‘parentese’ in whatever languages whānau speak.
  • Talk face-to-face with baby, so they can watch the speaker’s mouth as they make sounds.
  • Give baby time to ‘reply’.
  • Take turns when having a conversation with baby — your turn, then baby’s turn. This way baby starts to learn the process of sharing through having turns.
  • Talk with and sing to baby often.
  • Share simple board books together.

Getting to know their world

During this period baby can recognise familiar people and their voices. They’ll also be learning about care routines in their whānau for feeding, bathing and sleeping.

Knowing what comes next helps baby feel secure — ‘If baby can anticipate, baby can participate’.

Through consistent nurturing and care routines, a baby learns to trust the world. Then their attachment relationship with their parents and whānau grows stronger.

A secure relationship is the basis on which confidence, curiosity and exploration develop best. 

  • Respond quickly and warmly to baby when they cry.
  • Encourage whānau members to speak to baby using ‘parentese’, in whatever languages they speak best.
  • Show family photos to baby or make them their own little whānau photo album.
  • Play ‘peekaboo’ with baby.
  • Do daily activities with baby like feeding, nappy changing and bathing in the same way and order each time, so baby learns the patterns.

Growing brains

A baby’s brain is now developing millions of connections between the neurons. These connections happen because of the many sensory experiences baby has with people, places and things.

Their brain grows in size with the increase in brain connections.

Trusting relationships with their whānau gives baby a great start in life, building their confidence and curiosity. That trust, combined with their developing vision, ability to sit, and ability to use their eyes and hands together, means they will be ready to explore.

  • Build a trusting relationship with baby — because a secure baby is likely to be a curious baby who will be interested in learning about their world.
  • Think about how to handle baby when they pull on hair, grab at glasses and chomp at the nipple. It’s okay to let baby know it hurts, and to respond firmly and gently.
  • Remember to take baby for Well Child/Tamariki Ora visits, so their eyes and ears can be checked, and their head can be measured.

Well Child/Tamariki Ora checks are scheduled for when baby is 4–6 weeks and 3–4 months old (Well Child/Tamariki Ora, My health book, pages 65–66 and 73–74.)

  • If whānau suspect baby has an ear infection, take baby to the doctor to check if treatment is needed. A baby needs to hear consistently and well to make connections in the brain for understanding language.

Growing, healthy and safe

Babies are getting stronger and gaining more control over their bodies. They’ll learn to roll from back to puku, and from puku to back. They’ll be looking at their hands and discovering what they can do with them — reaching, grasping, batting and bringing things up to their mouth to explore.

Babies depend on their whānau to keep them safe, including protecting them from exposure to cigarette smoke.  Even after a smoker has left, toxins in the air can remain and can increase baby’s risk of getting glue ear, chest infections and asthma.

They may have a growth spurt around 3 months old and could need more milk. By 6 months old they may show interest in starting solids and have their first tooth. They may be able to sit with a little support behind them. A soft and warm adult is perfect!

  • Check how safe home is by getting down to baby’s level and looking for things that could harm baby or that baby could damage. Move those things out of baby’s reach.
  • Give baby time on the floor, as this is the safest place for them to practise moving and learning about what their body can do.
  • Whānau can sit on the floor, with baby between their legs and a small container or basket in front. Have 2 or 3 items in the basket for baby to explore, and talk about the items with baby.
  • Make a simple play gym so baby can explore by reaching, grasping and batting at the objects.
  • Clean baby’s new teeth using a soft brush or cloth. Tooth decay can start as soon as a tooth appears. Don’t put baby to bed with a bottle, as this can cause both tooth decay and the development of ear infections.
  • Hold off giving baby solids before 6 months old, as they may not get enough of their most important food — breast milk (or formula). It can also increase the chances of gastric or respiratory problems, and allergies.  Check their Well Child/Tamariki Ora My health book, page 145, for signs they might be ready to start solids.
  • Make the whānau home and car smoke-free. Only smoke outside and wear a ‘smoking jacket’, which can be left outside before coming indoors or holding baby.

Sensory learners

Babies are gathering ‘data’ from what they see, hear, smell, touch and taste. These sensory messages cause their brain cells to connect into neural pathways. Through repetition, the pathways become stronger and more permanent.

They’re developing the ability to turn their head in the direction of a sound, and they’ll be learning to recognise voices of close whānau members. By 6 months old they’ll turn and locate what — or who — is talking or making sounds.

As their vision develops, they can see further and focus for longer. By around 2 months they’ll ‘track’ an object moving slowly across their field of vision. By about 3 months, they’ll use their hands and eyes together to bat at objects and by 4–5 months will be reaching, grasping and bringing things to their mouth. They’ll also be seeing colours and in 3D.

  • Stimulate baby’s senses, move an object slowly for baby to follow with their eyes.
  • Hang or hold an item up for baby to practise focusing on and bat at.
  • Offer a container to baby, with a selection of safe objects of varied colour, texture and shape for them to explore with their senses. Remember they will put everything into their mouth, so avoid any small, sharp, pointy and breakable items.
  • Take baby outdoors so they can experience the natural world.
  • Talk to baby in the language that they speak best. Understand that baby has the capacity to learn all languages in the world, so long as they hear them spoken regularly.
  • Use ‘parentese’ in whatever languages the whānau speaks.
  • Talk and sing to baby often to help them absorb the sounds of language.
  • Call to baby from different places in the room, to help them practise locating the source of the sounds