Baby Development at 4-6 Months
Child Development Guide & Milestones: 4 to 6 Months Baby
Big strides in development happen between 4-6 months old. That’s because the left side of the brain is now “talking” to the right side of the brain. Your baby may begin to rock back and forth to prepare for crawling by moving the arms and legs together or pass a toy from one hand to the other. Babies at this age are learning how to interact with the world around them. To get your attention, your baby might cry, fuss or squeal. To get a better view of the room, babies may use newfound strength to pull up on their arms while lying on the belly.
Doctors use milestones to tell if a baby is developing as expected. There’s a wide range of what’s considered normal for 4-month and 6-month-old development, so some babies gain skills earlier or later than others. Babies who were born prematurely may reach milestones later. Always talk with your doctor about your baby’s progress, especially if there are concerns.
How much will my 4- to 6-month-old baby grow?
While all babies may grow at a different rate, the following indicates the average for boys and girls 4 to 6 months of age:
- Weight: average gain of 1 to 1¼ pounds each month; by 4 to 5 months has doubled birthweight
- Height: average growth of ½ to 1 inch each month
- Head size: average growth of about ½ inch each month
What can my baby do at this age?
This age is very social and babies begin moving in much more purposeful ways. While babies may progress at different rates, the following are some of the common milestones your baby may reach in this age group:
- Grasp, Moro, root and tonic neck reflexes (reflexes normally present in young infants) disappear
- Balances head well
- Sits with support, back is rounded
- Begins to support body with legs when held in standing position
- Rolls from back to front and front to back by 6 months
- Moves object from one hand to other
- Grabs feet and toes when lying on back
- Makes “swimming” motions with arms and legs when placed on abdomen
- Begins drooling (not always a sign of teething)
- Naps two to three times a day, for one to three hours each (on average)
- Begins to sleep longer at night (six to eight hours consistently)
- Has full color vision, able to see at longer distances
Why is touch important for development at 4- to 6-months-old?
Babies learn about the world through touch. When you cuddle or kiss your baby, your baby learns that he or she is safe, secure and loved.
The opportunities for exercising your baby’s sense of touch at this age are endless, even during a regular day. Your baby will enjoy toys and books with different textures. Allow your baby to safely explore surroundings. See if your baby likes to touch the silky trim of the baby blanket or feel the texture of a carpet.
How long should my 4- to 6-month-old baby sleep?
By this age, your baby should be well on the way toward having a regular sleep pattern. Some infants, particularly those who are breastfed, may still wake at night, but most no longer need a middle of the night feeding.
Most babies at this age should sleep 12-16 hours a day, which includes a longer stretch at night and at least 2 naps during the day, says the National Sleep Foundation. The average amount of daytime sleep is now about 3-4 hours. By 6 months, most babies are sleeping at night for 9 hours or longer, with brief awakenings.
Check out our healthy sleep guide for babies to get more info.
How can I help increase my baby’s development and emotional security?
Consider the following as ways to foster the emotional security of your baby:
- Repeat sounds and smile when your baby makes sounds.
- Laugh with your baby.
- Talk to and imitate your baby during feeding, dressing, changing diapers and bath time.
- Spend time on the floor playing with your child every day.
- Dance with your baby and do other rhythmic movements.
- Introduce your baby to other children and parents.
- Place safe toys near your baby to encourage reaching and grasping.
- Encourage laughing and play by making funny faces or sounds or blowing on baby’s belly and laughing.
- Play peek-a-boo games to help develop object permanence, the understanding that objects are still present even though they cannot be seen.
- Show your baby bright picture books and interesting objects.
- Show your baby his or her reflection in a mirror.
- Read books and stories to your baby, and point out pictures.
- Take your baby outside to see new things and people.
- Hold your baby for feedings and cuddle when he or she is awake.
- Hold and comfort your baby when he or she is unhappy.
Communication and Sensory Milestones
What can my baby say?
Your baby’s range of sounds and facial expressions continues to grow, with lots of smiling, laughing and babbling. Your baby is also imitating sounds, which is an important skill for learning to talk. It is very exciting for parents to watch their babies become social beings that can interact with others. While every baby develops speech at his or her own rate, the following are some of the common milestones in this age group:
- Coos and gurgles when talked to, or in response to toys
- Babbles, imitates sounds
- By 6 months, makes single syllable sounds (da, ma, ba)
- Blows bubbles or “raspberries”
How do babies at 4-6 months communicate?
Babies this age begin to experiment with the sounds they can make with their mouths. Your baby will spend more time babbling and imitate sounds. These are your baby’s early attempts at speaking and should be encouraged as much as possible.
If you listen closely, you’ll hear your baby’s voice rise and drop as if asking a question or making a statement. Your baby will also use sounds (other than crying) to get your attention and express feelings.
Your baby is just now beginning to understand the fundamentals of communication through language. When your baby was younger, they understood what you meant through the tone of your voice: soothing tones were comforting while agitated tones signaled something was wrong.
Now, your baby is beginning to pick out the components of your speech. They can hear and understand the different sounds you make, and the way words form sentences. During this period, babies learn to respond to their names, may pause when they hear “no,” and will start to associate words with familiar objects.
What does my 4- to 6-month-old baby understand?
A baby’s awareness of people and surroundings increases during this time and he or she may begin to interact with people other than parents. While babies may progress at different rates, the following are some of the common milestones in this age group:
- Recognize familiar things and people
- May hold out arms to be picked up
- Begin to learn concept of object permanence (i.e., a partially hidden object under a blanket is still there)
- May show displeasure when object or person goes away
- May recognize his or her own name
- May begin to understand “no” at 6 months of age
- Begin to understand cause and effect (the sound a toy makes when it is dropped)
What can my 4- to 6-month-old baby see?
Babies at this age can see much farther away (several feet) than just a few months ago. They can usually focus without going cross-eyed and can tell the difference between different colors.
Your baby is becoming much more aware of the environment. He or she can now follow the course of a rolling ball and watch the quick movements of an older sibling playing nearby. You may see your baby staring in concentration while holding a toy or studying his or her own hands. Hand-eye coordination is improving, so watch as your little one stares for a while at an object, then slowly reaches out to get it.
Help improve your baby’s sight skills with these tips:
- If your baby has been looking at the same toys or crib mobile for several months, now is a good time to change the scenery. Around 6 months, some babies start to pull themselves up to a sitting position. We recommend removing mobiles that hang over the crib or wall hangings within reach, so your baby doesn’t get hurt.
- Babies at this age enjoy more complex patterns and color variations. Try reading books with large, brightly colored pictures to your baby, who will enjoy staring at the pages.
- Stimulate your baby’s vision by exploring. Walks in the neighborhood, a trip to the supermarket or an outing to the local zoo all provide wonderful opportunities for your baby to see new things.
What can my 4- to 6-month-old baby hear?
Hearing is crucial to developing the ability to talk, and now your baby is beginning to pick out the parts of speech. Babies at this age also are cooing and may start to babble and make more attempts to imitate sounds.
These are your baby’s early attempts at speaking and should be encouraged as much as possible. Parents should repeat sounds their baby makes and introduce simple words that apply to everyday life. Have “conversations” with your baby and wait for a pause in the babble to “answer.” The give-and-take of these early discussions sets the stage for your baby’s first real words.
What can my 4- to 6-month-old baby taste and smell?
Your baby can taste and smell at this age. 4- to 6-month-old babies will prefer sweet tasting items over bitter ones. However, their taste preferences continue to grow and change. Babies will also begin recognizing smells they like and turning away from bad odors. If a mother is breastfeeding, it’s likely that a mother’s diet can shape the baby’s flavor preferences in the long run.
Most babies at this age try solid foods like oatmeal, cereal or another single-grain cereal. Experts recommend slowly starting solid foods when a baby is about 6 months old, depending on the baby’s readiness and nutritional needs. Be sure to check with your doctor before giving any solid foods.
Is my baby ready to eat solid foods?
Here are a few questions to ask if your baby is ready for solids:
- Is your baby’s tongue-thrust reflex gone or diminished? This reflex, which prevents infants from choking, also causes them to push food out of their mouths.
- Can your baby support his or her own head? To eat solid food, an infant needs good head and neck control and should be able to sit up supported.
- Is your baby interested in food? A 6-month-old baby who stares and grabs at your food at dinnertime is clearly ready for some variety in the food department.
If your doctor gives the go-ahead but your baby seems frustrated or uninterested as you’re introducing solid foods, try waiting a few days or even weeks before trying again. Solids are only a supplement at this point — breast milk and formula will still meet your baby’s basic nutritional needs.
Tips for Feeding Your Baby Solid Foods
With the hectic pace of family life, most parents opt for commercially prepared baby foods at first. They come in small, convenient containers, and manufacturers must meet strict safety and nutrition guidelines. When buying these pre-packaged foods, try to avoid brands with added fillers and sugars.
If you do plan to prepare your own baby foods at home, puréeing them with a food processor or blender, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Follow the rules for food safety, including washing your hands well and often.
- To preserve the nutrients in your baby’s food, use cooking methods that keep the most vitamins and minerals. Try steaming or baking fruits and vegetables instead of boiling, which washes away the nutrients.
- Freeze portions that you aren’t going to use right away rather than canning them.
- Don’t serve home-prepared beets, spinach, green beans, squash, or carrots to infants younger than 4 months old. These can contain high levels of nitrates, which can cause anemia in babies. Use jarred varieties of these vegetables instead.
- Whether you buy the baby food or make it yourself, texture and consistency are important. At first, babies should have finely puréed single-ingredient foods. For example, at first try just applesauce, not apples and pears mixed together.
- After your baby starts to eat individual foods, it’s OK to offer a puréed mix of two foods. When babies are about 8 months old, coarser, chunkier textures are OK as they start moving to a diet that includes more table foods.
- If you use prepared baby food in jars, spoon some food into a bowl to feed your baby. Do not feed your baby right from the jar — bacteria from the baby’s mouth can contaminate the remaining food. If you refrigerate opened jars of baby food, it’s best to throw away anything not eaten within a day or two.
- Around 6 months of age is a good time for your baby to try a cup. Buy one with large handles and a lid (a “sippy cup”) and teach your baby how to hold and drink from it. You might need to try a few cups to find one that works for your child. Use water at first to avoid messy clean-ups.
- You can give your 6-month-old water. It is recommended to introduce it in a sippy cup, and no more than 6 ounces a day. Juice is not recommended until the age of one.
Reviewed by Dr. Priya Mody, Pediatric & Adult Medicine, CHOC Primary Care – May 2021
Your child’s health is important at every stage. Visit CHOC Primary Care for pediatric services near you.