Cognitive Development in Infants (0 to 1 Year)

A mother playing her infant

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 the following article, we shall discuss everything about cognitive development in infants and about 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 about all these skills by your baby is called cognitive development.

When does it Start?

When you were pregnant, a certain piece of music or song would make your baby react, even inside your tummy. This means that your baby’s brain begins functioning even when he is inside his mother’s tummy. And after birth when you play that song or tune, your baby may react to it but your baby at this age does not have the ability to remember. However, your baby will master this ability over a few months.

You can try an activity to check that what your baby learns he may not remember after a few days. You can tie a toy string to your baby’s foot and when he kicks, the toy will move back and forth. However, your baby will forget that his kicking could move a toy, after a few days. 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. He also knows by this age 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 baby’s cognitive developmental skills because they thought that a baby starts understanding much later in life. But that is not the case and in today’s generation the 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:

From Birth to 3 Months

From birth to around three months of age, your baby may constantly be wondering about people and things around him. Everything around him is new and your baby is exploring his senses and his surroundings around this age.

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 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.

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.

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 recognize 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.

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:

  • 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.

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.

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 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 even if you do not see the object it still continues to exist.
  • 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 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 cope with cognitive developmental delays.
  • If your baby has had a major illness, then there may be a delay in achieving various milestones.
  • A one-year-old baby may be saying approximately 10 words or sounds but if your baby is unable to speak 4 to 5 words or understand basic commands, it is best to get in touch with your baby’s doctor.
  • Your baby may sit without support at around 6 to 7 months of age and by 9 months of age, almost most babies are able to sit. If your ten-month-old baby, has difficulty in sitting, it is better to get him checked by your doctor.

You can help your baby to achieve the basic milestones but you cannot force your baby to do so. You can indulge your baby in some cognitive development activities for infants that may help him in achieving various milestones.

Activities to Improve the Cognitive Development Of your Baby

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 try and hum along too. This activity will help memory and word recognition in babies.

2. Fun With Colours And Shapes

Vibrant and colourful things attract the attention of babies. You can take shape-toys such as a circle, triangle and square of various colours and keep repeating the colour and shape of the object such as ‘Blue Circle’.

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 its 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 is his own way and as parents, you should understand and appreciate that. However, if you see your baby experience developmental delay, you should get in touch with your doctor to understand the reason and take necessary actions to mend it.