As your baby reaches 4 months, his stomach has grown bigger so he doesn't need to feed so often -- just four or five times a day. But he'll still gain weight -- his need to feed just tapers off as he gets older, becoming more like that of older children and adults. Now his attention will start to gravitate toward other people and things during mealtimes, and though it's exciting to see him aware of and responsive to new things, feedings can get difficult. If your baby is easily distracted, try feeding him somewhere quiet for a while.
A new talent for rolling over
When placed on his stomach, your baby will lift his head and shoulders high, using his arms for support. This mini push-up helps him strengthen his muscles and get a better view of what's going on. He may even amaze you (and himself!) by rolling over from his back to his front, or vice versa. You can encourage this through play: wiggle a toy next to the side he customarily rolls to in case he's interested enough to try again. Applaud his efforts and smile; he may need your reassurance since new actions can be frightening.
Time for solid foods?
For the first four to six months of life your baby gets all the nutrients he needs from breast milk or formula milk. Still, parents are often eager to start their babies on solid foods. Talk to your doctor before trying yours on solids. You can begin feeding your baby some solids (meaning mushy foods such as pureed baby food or baby cereal) now that his digestive tract is more developed and his tongue-thrust reflex is starting to fade, but many doctors encourage parents to wait until their baby is 6 months old. Not rushing onto solids can cut down on allergic reactions and ensures that breast milk and formula won't get crowded out of your baby's diet.
Reaching out and mouthing objects
Your baby is now able to reach out and grab an object, even though he often misses his mark on the first try. Once he wraps his hands around something, he'll study it for a moment and then try to put it in his mouth. You may also notice a lot more dribbling now. Some babies can start teething as early as 4 months old, but the first tooth usually doesn't surface until five to six months.
Encourage your baby to explore and play with a variety of objects. For instance, a clean cloth diaper will occupy your baby for a few minutes. Watch him suck on it, hold it, and discover what happens when he scrunches it up. Give him a light rattle and watch him delight in the sound it makes when he shakes it. An activity center or cradle gym is a good choice for this stage, as your baby begins to discover the cause and effect of moving a lever and hearing a bell ring, for instance.
Able to play alone now
By now, your baby can play with his hands and feet for a few minutes at a time. A miracle! Suddenly you realize it's strangely quiet in the bedroom so you look in, only to discover that your baby, who so far has needed your attention for most of every waking moment, is amusing himself. Now maybe you can start reading the paper again.
Beginning to understand the role of language
Researchers believe that by 4 months your baby understands all the basic sounds that make up his native language. Between 4 and 6 months, he develops the ability to make some vocal sounds, such as "ma-ma" or "da-da." He doesn't yet connect that sound with a parent, though. By now, he's also able to participate in back-and-forth imitation games -- you say "boo," and he'll try to say it back. You can promote your child's sense of communication through imitating his faces and sounds -- "mirroring" him. Because you react when he makes noises and tries to say something, your baby learns the importance of language and starts to understand cause and effect. He'll begin to realize that what he says makes a difference.
Appreciation for a full range of colors
Babies see color from birth, but they have difficulty distinguishing similar tones such as red and orange. As a result they often prefer black and white or high-contrast colors. Between your baby's second and fourth months, color differences become clearer, and your baby starts to distinguish similar shades. Your baby will probably begin to show a preference for bright primary colors now. Some great eye-catchers include primary-colored mobiles (hung out of his reach), bright posters and visually strikingboard books.
Getting more selective about people
By 4 months, your baby may respond to your presence, your voice and even your facial expressions by kicking and waving his arms. About now, your child, who to this point probably bestowed smiles on everyone he met, is beginning to be choosy about the company he keeps. In large groups or with unfamiliar people he may need time to get comfortable. Allow for transition time with strangers or when leaving your baby with a babysitter. You may also notice that when he's safely in your arms he's interested in interacting with other people -- especially noisy, boisterous older children.
Is my baby developing normally?
Remember, each baby is unique and meets social milestones at his own pace. These are simply guidelines to what your baby has the potential to accomplish -- if not right now, then shortly.
And if your baby was born prematurely, you'll probably find that he'll need time before he can do the same things as other children his age. Don't worry. Most doctors assess a premature child's development from the time he should have been born and evaluate his skills accordingly.
If you have any questions at all about your baby's development, check with your doctor.
What if my baby looks fat? Obesity has become the health buzzword of the day. While it's unhealthy for anyone to carry too much fat, your baby's doctor is unlikely to be very worried if your baby is chubby. Some babies are born plump, others grow that way — but not because they have an unhealthy diet and don't exercise. It's because they haven't developed much muscle yet. This kind of baby fat isn't likely to stay with your child as she grows.
Should my baby go on a diet? No. First, your baby's doctor will check to see whether your baby's weight and height are within the guidelines for her age. If she's too heavy, it's likely your doctor will simply watch to see how she grows. It's pretty rare for a doctor to be very concerned at this age, especially before solids have been added to a baby's diet.
Does this mean my baby will always have weight trouble? No. A plump baby does not foreshadow an overweight teenager or adult. Many big babies slim down once they begin crawling and walking. They simply store their baby fat differently. As your baby grows, you can keep her fit and healthy by encouraging floor play. Feed her only when she's hungry, and avoid using a bottle to calm her when she's upset or stressed. Instead, offer her a toy or love and kisses.
Sometimes you need to cater to your baby's every whimper; at other times, you need to let him figure things out on his own.
By Cammie McGovern
Where's the Risk?
Before I had my first baby, I made a vow: I would never become an infant-indulging pushover. I had watched in horror as my friends jumped up every time their babies burped or whined, and I was certain that I had more fortitude than that. But you can probably guess the second half of this story: I had a baby -- and did all the same things.
With each new transgression, I shuddered at the thought of raising a spoiled child. But, according to experts, most of my worries were baseless. "During the first six months, it's really impossible to spoil a child," reassures David Mrazek, M.D., chairman of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota. "Meeting an infant's need to be comforted, held, and fed in a predictable fashion helps him feel secure and builds a loving relationship between parent and child. It does not lead to spoiling."
Responding to your toddler also fosters independence, says Peter Gorski, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, in Boston, and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatricians' National Committee on Early Childhood,Adoption, and Dependent Care. "A child will be more willing to explore boundaries and explore his world if he knows he can depend on his parents," Dr. Gorski says.
It's not until the second half of a baby's first year that the risk of spoiling even begins. That's when you may find it necessary to make a few adjustments. "At this point in development, children need to learn to trust themselves as well as their caregivers," says Ester Schaler Buchholz, Ph.D., author of The Call of Solitude: Alonetime in a World of Attachment (Simon & Schuster, 1997). "Of course, your baby still needs your care and love. But he also needs to start figuring things out for himself."
Obviously, this is often easier said than done. "Our older son, Gregory, always wanted to sleep with us," says Amy Pentz, of Suffield, Connecticut. "At first, we thought it was cute, but eventually we wanted a decent night's rest ourselves. It was a nightmare getting him to sleep in his crib. When our second son, Jackson, was born, we helped him go to sleep in his crib from the start."