Baby Development: When Attachment Ends

My third child had the remarkable distinction of being attached to not one, not two, but three blankets. These baby items were appropriately, if not creatively, named blue blankie, yellow blankie, and green blankie, and he loved them all. Regardless of where he went, the blankets were always in tow. It was cute at first. After all, he was the baby of the family, and everyone likes to dote over the youngest child. But as he passed from baby to toddler, his dependence on the blankets grew. I wondered if transitioning him from an item he'd outgrown would be three times more difficult when it was time to leave this baby development stage in the dust.

As time went on, I began to worry that he'd take the blankets on his first date. I knew he wouldn't, of course, but when you're a parent in the throes of weaning your child from his favorite baby item, you seriously begin to wonder. The blankets accompanied us to the playground and the supermarket -- even his sister's soccer games. As time went on, they got dirty, torn, and worn. 

Our pediatrician assured us that our son wasn't the first child on the planet to grow overly attached to a security object. In fact, it's a normal stage of baby development that helps provide the child with a sense of security, and there's no reason to force him out of his comfort zone. These things usually fix themselves, she said. She was right.

Preschool -- and the peer pressure that goes along with it -- played a major role in weaning our son off the blankets. It doesn't take any child long to figure out that the other kids aren't walking into preschool with three blankets in tow. In addition to that, his father and I tried our best not to fuss about the blankets. Yes, they were annoying, but we tried to overlook them. Logic told us that if these baby items were acting as a form of security, then telling him not to use them might only create more anxiety, and in turn, increase the dependency. We chose to let the social pressures of preschool work their magic instead.

During the time when our son and his blankets were inseparable, these tips helped us cope:

  • Don't insist that your child give up his security attachment too soon. It only creates more anxiety.
  • Set limits when necessary, but do it gently. For instance, rather than dragging the blankets through a dirty playground, we encouraged our son to leave them in a safe place while he played.  
  • Find other ways to keep your child's hands busy and occupied, like building blocks, drawing, or solving a floor puzzle.
  • Give plenty of hugs while your child is learning to outgrow the dependency.

Like many parents, we worried that our son's blankets would be with him forever. Now we know that blue, yellow, and green blankies were simply another stepping stone in his ongoing quest for independence.

First Words: Reach this Baby Milestone

Every new mom waits patiently to hear her baby’s first words--probably secretly hoping it will be “mama.” But when that first bit of language finally emerges, don’t panic if you can’t understand exactly what your baby is saying. For my firstborn, her early utterances were tough to discern, but one day in her 13th month, she clearly said “fan” (a strange first word, I know) -- and I was certain a genius was born. Here’s how to encourage your baby’s first words:

Keep on talking: Experts agree that the more words your new baby hears, the better, so keep talking to her even if you think she’s tuning you out. I talked endlessly to my daughter when she was a baby, commenting on what we saw in the park, what she was eating, and what the plans were for the day. I explained the weather, talked about what we were buying in the food store, and even narrated how I changed her Pampers diaper. No topic was too dull.

Take pause: As you chitchat during the day, be sure to give your new baby time to digest what you’ve said -- and to reply in her baby gurgle. This will help her learn the flow of conversation. My baby babbled away and tried to repeat what she heard, so I acted as if I was having a conversation with her and gave her time to explain “her side.”

Crack the books: Begin to read from day one! It’s never too early to start short board books with new babies. Isabel loved to snuggle up and hear a couple before bed, and she’d chew on them during the day, too. To help along baby development, work up to longer picture books, and let her help by turning the pages.

Break into song: Simple rhyming ditties are entertaining, of course, but they also serve to teach new babies new words. I used to sing as we were walking in the park, picking up toys, or eating a snack or meal. Pop music hits, church hymns, camp songs -- any happy tune will do the trick.

Above all, I learned not to feel silly as I taught my baby to talk. Yes, gabbing about your to-do list to your little one can be a bit strange, and you will often feel like you’re talking to yourself. However, it will be more than worth it once your new baby says her first words. 

Baby Items to Keep Your Baby Happy at Each Stage

Before my son was born, my husband and I made the prenatal pilgrimage to register at a big box baby store for all the baby stuff we thought we’d need. We were excited, overwhelmed, and just a little bit skeptical. Would we have room in our apartment for tricked out swings and bouncers? How could there be so many variations on the pacifier? Did our little guy really need all this baby stuff? Turns out, he was indifferent to some items, like the ubiquitous lovey blanket, and totally tickled by others.

Here, the go-to baby items that kept our baby -- and his first-time parents -- happy throughout his first year.

0-3 Months

Pacifier My reluctance to introduce the pacifier -- for fear my son would be screaming for this addictive baby item at age three -- quickly subsided when our pediatrician endorsed it as a great way to soothe a fussy baby and help him to sleep. Pacifiers may also help reduce the risk of SIDS, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. So now we keep a few in the diaper bag and by his crib.

Activity Mat Now that our son has conquered that baby development milestone of walking (or more like running) around the house, it’s hard to remember that our baby ever hung out exclusively on a round piece of fabric in the family room. For the first three to four months he happily played beneath the soft, padded arches of his activity mat, swatting at colorful, dangling toys, or strengthening his back muscles during tummy time.

Car Seat-Stroller Combo Baby items come with a lot of straps. It may seem like you’re constantly clicking and unclicking, locking, and unlocking. Enter the detachable car seat and stroller in-one, which lets you transfer your tike -- from the car to the stroller and back again -- while he’s still happily nestled in his car seat (so you’ll never have to disturb him from his nap).

4-6 Months

Swing In the early days, my son was mostly unfazed by this particular baby item. He couldn’t focus on the mobile swirling above him, and even the lowest setting was a bit too fast. But as he packed on the pounds, he found his swing sweet spot. The rocking motion and music helped soothe, entertain, and coax him to sleep whenever he refused to nap in his crib. Plus, it gave me a few precious, hands-free moments.

Toys to grasp Once your little one finds his fingers (one of the cutest baby milestones!), between four and seven months, he’ll be reaching for the remote, your earrings…you get the idea. My son was crazy for a lightweight ball we found that had plenty of large holes his fingers could grip. He also loved to hang onto colorful linked rings that doubled as teethers and pliable plastic rattles.

Floor Seat When I first put my son in his floor seat, which helps your baby into a seated position, his eyes lit up. This was a baby item he could get on board with. Propped up in this new pose, he also had a fascinating fresh perspective on life. Look for baby seats that have straps, detachable toys, and that can double as a booster seat for meals on the go.

7-12 Months

Exercise Gym In the months before he developed his walking skills, my son’s activity gym was one of the baby items at the center of his universe. He loved to pull up to a standing position and explore the keyboard, mirror, and other toys, which made pleasant clicking and clacking sounds. Our gym came with a detachable seat, which rotated around the table. My little one loved to propel himself in circles, and I loved that he could get his legs working without leaving the room.

Stuffed Animal My son’s stuffed monkey is practically a member of the family -- he dines with us on occasion, gets kisses at night, and travels with us on family vacations. While it’s important to keep stuffed toys and other objects out of the crib during the first year (to reduce the risk of SIDS), Monkey’s always been game to demonstrate how to brush one’s teeth, play peekaboo and lay perfectly still for a diaper change. He’s a comfort and constant companion -- in other words, perfect as far as baby items go.

Baby Milestone: The First Smile

My 1-month-old son had a belly full of breast milk, and his eyes shut tight in slumber the first time that I saw his little baby smile. Did that mean he was having pleasant dreams? That he was happy? That he was passing some sort of baby milestone? Or, as the naysayers like to tell us, did it just mean he was passing gas? According to the experts, those sleepy-time smiles during a new baby’s first month are really just reflexes. In fact, no one is sure why newborns smile so much in their sleep during their first month. However, I like to think of those early smiles as practice for the real deal. Here’s what I learned from my little one’s grins: 

Your infant’s smile may develop. Your new one’s baby smile will soon become more pronounced: In terms of your baby’s development, genuine grins may start to brighten an infant’s face around the second month. That means that he’s alert and beaming in response to stimuli like your smiling face or a fun toy. These smiles indicate that your baby is reaching a big baby milestone: He’s developing social skills.         

There are many types of smiles. The baby smiles that I most cherish are the ones my son would make when he spotted his dad or me. There was the “Hey, I’m glad you’re here to get me out of this crib” smile. And the “I love playing peek-a-boo with you” smile. And of course, the “Mommy or Daddy are so silly” smile. You may see these types of grins -- the ones where your new baby smiles at familiar faces and engages in play -- around the third month. Soon after, that smile may be accompanied by laughter, another big baby milestone.         

Keep a camera handy. Capturing this happy baby milestone on video or with a camera isn’t all that challenging. Most new babies seem to find lots of things to smile about during these early months. Of course, babies can also get over stimulated. This is why you sometimes end up with tears when you try too hard to coax a smile. I found it was helpful to lighten up on the baby games until my son was ready for more grins and giggles.

There’s nothing more endearing than when your child hits one of those baby milestones, and it’s especially spectacular when it’s a baby smile. You’ll probably find that your little one’s grin can light up a whole room. Keep the games, snuggles, and kisses coming, and those sweet smiles are sure to brighten everyone’s days.

Baby Milestones Remembered: Rolling Over

After my daughter, Morgan, mastered the art of sitting up by herself at five months, we knew the next baby milestone was our baby rolling over. All the signs of readiness were there: sleeping on her side, rolling onto her shoulder, crossing one leg over the other while lying down. We tried all the techniques, such as putting a toy where she would need to roll over to get it, showing her how to make it happen, and going from both back to belly and belly to back. There were many times she came close but couldn’t quite make it onto her stomach from her back.

Three days shy of her six month birthday, while watching her sleep on what my husband and I lovingly call stalkervision, aka Morgan TV, aka our video monitor, we heard a noise. Suddenly I saw her head pop up, and there was my baby rolling over right there in her crib. It was then I realized that all the action happens when she thinks we aren’t looking (which would later be confirmed even more when she started crawling in her crib). There she was, lying on her stomach in her crib, ready to sleep for the night. Baby milestone completed? Check!

I was very informed about the dangers of babies sleeping on their bellies and about SIDS, so I began to panic, even though her baby development move was quite impressive. She was sleeping for the night, and rolled over by herself, so should we just leave her there? I didn’t want to wake her or disrupt her sleep, but I also had her safety in mind. I told my husband to very gently move her back onto her back to sleep. Mission: completed.

The next day, we wanted to witness our baby rolling over in person and not on a blurry monitor screen. We put her on her back and placed her favorite rattle just out of reach. Morgan easily rolled over onto her belly to grab it, then rolled on her back and kicked her legs in joyful pride as we celebrated our baby’s development halfway through her first year of life.