Development

Baby Development Leaps (What They Are & Tips For Parents)

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Have you heard of the term “wonder weeks” and are not entirely sure what they refer to?

A “wonder week” is a term created by two Dutch doctors (Frans Plooj and Dr Hetty van de Rijt), and it relates to research that  babies typically experience the same mental developmental leaps at 10 specific times during the first 20 months of their lives.

A baby development leap can be a challenging time for babies and parents alike, especially as you may thing your baby’s life – not to mention your life – has been turned upside down.

So in this article we’ve taken a look at what baby leaps are and the specifics of the 10 baby development leaps, including what you can expect from your child.

To wrap things up we’ll also run through some general advice and helpful tips for parents on how to survive baby development leaps.

What Is A Baby Leap?

A baby leap is when a child experiences a sudden leap in brain development.

Babies experience 10 unique leaps (or growth spurts) in the first 20 months of their lives, and each stage represents specific change and the learning of new skills (more on these later).

While each of the 10 leaps are unique, they all have two phases: The Fussy Phase and The Skills Phase.

The Fussy Phase

The sensory changes that a baby experiences during a leap can affect their sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch, and each of these changes can be upsetting for a child.

If we think about it this is hardly surprising, because what was once familiar to your little one has now started to change.

As a result, your baby will want mommy or daddy even more than usual, because in their eyes, you are the only thing that is staying consistent.

Common signs and symptoms of the fussy stage include the 3 Cs:

  • Crying
  • Crankiness
  • Clinginess

The Skills Phase

It’s important to remember that while each phase and the accompanying change in behavior might seem like a regression, the opposite is in fact true – because during a leap your baby is actually progressing, rapidly developing their brain and learning amazing new skills.

So once your child is over the initial shock of any changes, they will start to explore, and may begin doing new things like babbling, being more observant and exploring the new possibilities in their bodies.

Below is a complete list of the 10 leaps, with a description of that you can expect your baby to go through during each one.

Leap 1 – From 4 Weeks – New Sensations

After their very first developmental leap, at around one month in, you can expect your baby to notice and be more interested in their surrounding and what’s going on around them.

You may also notice your newborn is more alert when awake, and they might react more to you and other people including any siblings.

Leap 2 – From 7 Weeks – Patterns

During the second leap your newborn will begin to notice patterns in their world.

One common example is they will probably discover their hands, and will start to twist and turn them.

From around 7 weeks your baby will lose a lot of their automatic reflexes, and will start to consciously do things with their body – such as kicking or swiping more often – although the movement will still look quite wooden.

Leap 3 – From 11 Weeks – Smooth Transitions

This leads on nicely to the third developmental leap, when some of the woodenness will be replaced by smoother movement.

During this leap your baby will be able to follow things more smoothly with their eyes and body, and will gain better control over their arms and legs.

Leap 4 – From 14 Weeks – Events

This leap is all about events, and beginning to understand cause and effect – for example understanding that if they cry in their bassinet or crib, someone will come and get them.

A common side effect of this leap is sleep regression, where you baby experiences a shift in their sleeping pattern and may fight sleep due to the intensity of the stimulation they are experiencing.

Understanding that mom or dad will come into the room when they cry – and testing this new discovery – is another reason why babies may not sleep well during development leap 4.

Leap 5 – From 22 Weeks – Relationships

From around 22 weeks onwards, your child will start to understand the relationship between things.

For example, your little one may begin crying when you move further away from them, because they understand the distance between the two of you has increased.

This understanding of distance is likely to cause your baby to want learn how to move, so you might notice them rolling or even crawling around the 22 week mark.

It’s also round this time that separation anxiety may occur.

Separation anxiety is when a child becomes anxious or stressed when their parents, with whom they’ve build a strong attachment, leave them alone.

Development leap 5 is  when you might start to see your child showing more obvious signs of affection, such as bigger smiles, hugging and kissing.

Leap 6 – From 33 Weeks – Categories

During the sixth development leap, your baby will start to recognize colors and shapes – for example understanding that a brown cow is different to a black cat.

According to UNICEF this is also a social and emotional milestone, so don’t be surprised if your child becomes afraid of people they don’t know, and begins clinging to a favorite toy or lovey.

They may also react more strongly to new tastes and smells – so it might be a good idea to skip the meat and well seasoned vegetables, as your baby might prefer even more bland and simple baby food than usual during this leap.

Leap 7 – From 41 Weeks – Sequences

Next up is the world of sequences, which is where your baby starts to understand how events tie into each other.

For example, they will start to understand that when you put them in their high chair, putting on a bib usually follows.

And when they want to eat, they need to grab their spoon, place it in their bowl, scoop some food out and then place the spoon in their mouth.

As a side note, in the example above you should be aware that your little one won’t be able to carry out the full sequence.

So while they might be able to pick the spoon up and dip it into their bowl, they will still need help with the rest of the sequence, and will still probably make a big mess!

Leap 8 – From 50 Weeks – Programs

Following on from above, leap 8 is all about being able to understand a full sequence or program.

A common example is your child will understand that when you get home from grocery shopping, you need to take the items out of the bag, place them in the refrigerator or cupboard, close the fridge door and put the bags away.

And don’t be surprised if your baby wants to help you out during these sequences, particularly as they will be eager to practice their new skill.

Leap 9 – From 59 Weeks – Principles

During this leap your baby will develop a lot of new skills, and their personality will really start to shine through.

Copying mom and dad, social skills, humour and understanding possession are just some of the new things your baby will learn during this development leap.

They will also be able to make, change and evaluate plans, think further ahead and start to learn that their actions have consequences.

A final note about this leap is you may start to see some negotiation, bargaining and unfortunately for the first time – tantrums.

Leap 10 – From 70 Weeks – Systems

Development leap 10, when your baby is around 16 to 18 months, is all about systems.

Expect your toddler to be able to change their behaviour to suit a specific circumstance, understand concepts such as sharing and testing boundaries, and even expressing emotions via music, language or art.

Tips & Advice During Development Leaps

Development leaps can be hard for parents and babies alike.

So here are some helpful tips and advice on what to do during development leaps, and how to survive leap 1 all the way to leap 10.

  • Remember you also need looking after yourself too, so don’t neglect the needs of mom and dad, and enlist some help from close family members like aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and grandparents if you possibly can.
  • It can be hard in the moment, but don’t forget that a development leap is not permanent, and it’s all part of your child’s incredible development, the learning of new skills and growing up.
  • Reassure your child by giving them plenty of attention and cuddles to help them feel safe.
  • Consider letting your child sleep with a pacifier as the sucking action may soothe them.
  • Consider playing white noise as the sound may be comforting to your baby.
  • It might be helpful to breastfeed your baby to sleep, because nursing can help them feel safer and more comfortable during a developmental leap.
  • Consider staying at home more often during a leap, because your home environment is familiar and safe to your baby.
  • Consider using a rocker or some other vibration to calm, soothe and settle your baby.
  • Make your child’s room as dark as possible when sleeping at night, and also for daytime naps.
  • Reassure your child frequently that everything is fine and you are here for them.
  • Be prepared for your child’s feeding and sleeping routines to change – they may fight sleep more often and be interested in feeding at unusual times – these are natural and everything will be back to normal again soon.

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