Child development: Babies (0-12 months)

Babies go through an incredible amount of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development in their first year. Parents and carers play a vital role in supporting and nurturing their baby's growth and making sure they are happy and healthy.

Baby's first days: checks, tests, and medications

In the hours and days after a baby is born, a few tests and checks are done to make sure they are healthy and can go home from the hospital. 

If your baby was not born in a hospital, speak to your midwife or doctor about organising tests and checks.

The Apgar score

The Apgar score is the first check for your baby. It is done at one and five minutes after they are born. 

The Apgar score checks five key areas of a newborn's health, including:

  • skin colour
  • heart rate
  • reflexes and responsiveness
  • muscle tone
  • breathing rate.

Each area is scored from 0 - low to 2 - high. Your baby's total Apgar score is out of 10. 

A score of 7-10 at five minutes means they are adapting well to being in the outside world. 

A score of 0-6 can mean that they need some extra help, including:

  • support with breathing
  • monitoring for a longer period
  • interventions like surgery or medication.

It is important to remember that the Apgar score is just one piece of information used by health professionals to check the health of a newborn baby. Many different things can cause a low Apgar score, and it is not always a sign of serious illness.

Your doctor, nurse or midwife will be there to answer any questions you might have about your baby after birth.

Bloodspot screening or the “heel prick test”

Newborn bloodspot screening is offered to every newborn baby in Australia. It is also called the heel prick test.

This test screens newborn babies for rare but serious medical conditions that might not appear until they are older. 

The test is done between 48 and 72 hours after birth and involves pricking the heel of the foot with a tiny needle. A small card is pressed onto the heel to absorb the tiny spot of blood, which is then sent off to be tested. 

Newborn bloodspot screening tests for conditions including:

  • Phenylketonuria (PKU): a condition where the body can’t break down a chemical in food proteins, causing brain damage and intellectual disability
  • Primary congenital hypothyroidism: a condition where the thyroid glands don’t make enough hormones, causing intellectual disability and growth issues
  • Cystic fibrosis: a condition where the lungs and pancreas make mucus that clogs the organs and stops them from working properly
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH): a condition where the adrenal glands do not produce hormones properly, causing issues with metabolism, reproductive organs, and salt regulation
  • Medium chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase (MCAD) deficiency: a life-threatening condition that affects the body’s ability to process protein and fat.

Early detection and treatment of these conditions can make sure newborn babies avoid serious illness and access treatment as soon as possible.

Injections given after birth

Vitamin K

Newborn babies can receive a vitamin K injection shortly after birth. This helps their blood to clot and prevents bleeding. Newborn babies do not get enough vitamin K during pregnancy or from breast milk, so the injection is very important to bring their levels up. 

Low vitamin K levels can cause a life-threatening condition called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB). Babies with VKDB can have bleeding in the body, which does not clot or stop. This bleeding can cause brain damage, organ failure and death.

The vitamin K injection is safe for newborn babies. Speak to your doctor or midwife if you have concerns or want more information.

Hepatitis B vaccination

Hepatitis B is a virus that can cause long-term liver disease and cancer. Hepatitis B is infectious and can be easily passed through:

  • birth
  • contact with infected blood
  • cuts or scratches in the skin from unclean items like razors, nail clippers and needles.

Newborn babies are offered a hepatitis B vaccine before leaving the hospital and will receive additional doses at six weeks, four months, and six months of age.

SWISH test

The Statewide Infant Screening Hearing (SWISH) program is a routine hearing check for all newborn babies in NSW. This test is done a few days after birth and measures brain responses to soft clicking sounds to check for hearing loss. 

Early detection of hearing issues helps newborn babies access hearing services and support, lowering the risk of learning and development issues in the future.

Newborn physical check

Before going home from the hospital, the paediatrician will do a physical check to ensure newborn babies are physically healthy and are developing normally. 

This assessment will check a newborn's:

  • general appearance
  • skin 
  • head and neck movement
  • facial features
  • mouth, including lip and tongue ties
  • lung and heart sounds
  • abdomen shape and feel
  • genitals
  • anus
  • limb movement
  • reflexes like sucking, grasping, and stepping.

This assessment can help find any health concerns or differences in how a baby has grown that may not have been noticed during pregnancy or at birth. 

Assessments are important to ensure newborn babies are linked to the right specialists and support services as early as possible.

Navigating the first 3 months with your newborn

The first three months of a baby's life are often called the "4th trimester" as they undergo rapid growth while adjusting to life in the outside world.

This period can also be exciting and challenging for new parents as they adjust to caring for a newborn, recovering from birth, and managing hormonal changes. 

Follow your NSW Health Blue Book, the tips below and the Brining the best out of your baby calendar for support and guidance for your baby's first three months of life.

General development

The first three months are a period of rapid growth for a newborn baby. By the end of this period, many parents and carers wonder where their tiny newborn went. 

During this time, a baby should:

  • gain weight and grow bigger
  • start to have more control over their head, arms, and legs
  • make more deliberate movements.

Towards the end of the third month, a baby should start to: 

  • lift their head and show interest in their environment
  • see things more clearly
  • develop a personality, including likes and dislikes
  • smile and interact with you.

Getting used to feeding a newborn

Whether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, it's important to follow your baby's cues for hunger and offer feeds on demand in the first few months. Skin-to-skin contact while feeding can help with milk production, settling and bonding.

Babies will go through periods of cluster feeding, which can look like rapid bursts of constant feeds, almost like snacking. Cluster feeding is normal and is not usually a sign of low milk production in breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding can be an easy process for some and very difficult for others. It's important to remember that both breastfeeding parents and babies are learning a new skill, and practice makes perfect. 

Good support and information are essential for any breastfeeding journey. Contact an internationally board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), your hospital or your local child and family health nurse for help with things like:

  • adjusting to breastfeeding
  • trying different positions or equipment
  • pumping or expressing milk
  • identifying issues with latching or milk production
  • issues with breasts like pain, infection or engorgement.

Burping, wind, and reflux

Newborn babies need help to release air that is swallowed while they are feeding. Burping helps reduce discomfort and gas buildup in babies. 

Burping can be done in a few different ways, including:

  • holding your baby upright against your chest while gently patting and rubbing their back
  • laying your baby face down across your lap while gently patting and rubbing their back
  • sitting your baby on your lap with their back straight, supporting their chin and chest with your hand while using your other hand to gently pat their back.

Some other tips for reducing and relieving wind and reflux include:

  • using slow-flow teats when bottle-feeding
  • holding your baby upright as much as possible while feeding
  • pace feeding– a technique where you slowly move the bottle at a horizontal angle to slow the flow of liquid while taking breaks and letting your baby decide when they are finished
  • letting your baby rest for a few minutes after feeding, and do not go straight into a nappy change or tummy time
  • lying your baby on their back and gently moving their legs in a circular motion, as if they were riding a bike.

Speak to your family doctor or child and family health nurse if your baby has ongoing reflux, unusual bloating, excessive crying, or you are concerned for any reason.

The Period of PURPLE Cyring

The Period of PURPLE crying is a model used to explain the first 6-8 weeks after birth when a baby's crying can reach its peak. While this is developmentally normal, it can be extremely difficult for parents and carers.

Crying is how babies communicate. While this can be stressful, it does not always mean they are sick or in pain. Comfort your baby, try different soothing techniques, and reach out for support if you are struggling.

It is important for parents and carers to have a safe plan for periods when the baby's crying is causing distress. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed or you are not coping, you can:

  • put baby down in a safe space, like their bassinet
  • eave the room for a few minutes
  • sit down and try some slow breathing
  • have a drink of water or a cup of tea
  • call someone for help or support. 

This will help keep you and your baby safe.

See Parent and carer wellbeing- crying babies for support, tips, and advice for parents and carers.

Sleep and settling strategies

Newborns sleep a lot, usually in short bursts around the clock.  

Babies do not “sleep through the night” as adults would. It is developmentally normal for babies to wake up multiple times during the night, as they need to feed.

Parents and carers may need to try adjusting their environment, settling and feeding strategies to find a sleep routine that works for their family.

See Newborn sleep for information and strategies around settling, swaddling and sleeping.

Weight gain

It is normal for babies to lose a small amount of weight after they are born. Up to 10% of their birth weight is generally considered acceptable. By day 10-14 of life, babies should have gained weight and be back to their birth weight.

Each time your baby is weighed, the measurement should be recorded in their ‘Blue Book’. There can be wide variations in the rate of infant growth. The accurate measurement and recording of your baby’s weight, length and head circumference will help health professionals track your baby’s growth patterns.

Communicating with your baby

Getting to know your baby’s cues for communicating will take some time.

Learn how your baby communicates things like sleepiness, hunger and stress by paying attention to things like:

  • their body language
  • facial expressions
  • sounds they make at different times.

Click through the tabs to learn some common ways babies communicate their feelings. 


  • making jerky movements
  • yawning
  • crying
  • rubbing their eyes
  • pulling at their hair or ears.


  • mouth opening
  • rooting - where your baby turns their head, nuzzles and thrusts their tongue in the direction of a breast or bottle
  • stretching
  • increasing movement
  • bringing hands to mouth.

Alert and ready to play or interact

  • looking at you
  • smiling 
  • bright looking eyes.

Stressed and overstimulated

  • looking away 
  • grimacing or frowning 
  • yawning 
  • crying. 

Support is available

Looking after a newborn baby can be wonderful and challenging at the same time. Parents and carers do not have to go through this journey alone; help is available.

Call on partners, family and friends for support and try to accept offers of help where you feel comfortable.

Support, referral to services, and information are available from your local doctor and child and family health nurse.

Health checks and immunisations in the first year

Every baby in NSW is given a personal health record, known as the “blue book”. The blue book is your essential guide to tracking growth, development, immunisations, and health checks from birth to age 5.

Regular health checks with a local doctor or child and family health centre are a great way to check your child’s health and development, and discuss any concerns or answer any questions you might have.

These regular health checks are also an opportunity for babies to get their childhood immunisations.

Immunisations given according to the NSW Immunisation Schedule are the best way to protect children from serious, preventable diseases.

All immunisations on this schedule are free for children enrolled in Medicare. 

Evidence of immunisation status must be provided for things like: 

  • childcare
  • preschool
  • school
  • parenting and childcare payments through Centrelink.

Health checks and immunisations in their first year are generally at the following ages. 


See the ‘Baby’s first days’ section above for information on the checks and immunisations babies will have when they’re born.

1 to 4 weeks

Between 1 and 4 weeks of age, families are contacted by the local child and family health centre to make the first couple of appointments and send information about joining a parent’s group. 

If preferred, families can also make these appointments through their local doctor or paediatrician. It is important to note that local doctors and paediatricians may have a private fee for these appointments.

The first proper appointment will be at around four weeks old. Babies are weighed during this first appointment, and their length and head are measured. 

The doctor or nurse will discuss:

  • how you are settling in at home
  • how feeding is going
  • where and how your baby is sleeping
  • immunisations
  • general safety
  • how you are coping with your physical and mental health.

6 to 8 weeks

At the 6–8-week appointment, babies are weighed and measured, and their growth will be tracked on the percentile chart.

The doctor or nurse will discuss:

  • any changes or progress since the last visit
  • parent’s group
  • feeding support
  • sleep
  • the first few milestones your baby should be reaching.

The first scheduled immunisation will happen at six weeks and will include protection against:

Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children will also receive the Meningococcal B vaccine for free.

4 months

The appointment at 4 months is mainly for giving the next dose of childhood immunisations. 

It’s still a good opportunity to check in with the doctor or nurse about any concerns or questions.

The 4-month vaccines are a repeat of the vaccines given at 6 weeks. 

They include protection against:

Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children will also receive the Meningococcal B vaccine for free.

6 months

At the six-month appointment, babies will be measured, and their developmental milestones, like movement, will be tracked. 

They’ll have a physical check, and the doctor or nurse will discuss things like: 

  • changes in sleep
  • changes in feeding
  • introducing solid foods and water. 
  • managing teething
  • looking after new baby teeth.

The 6-month vaccines include protection against:

Influenza vaccine

From 6 months, it's recommended that children have the annual influenza vaccine. Getting the flu vaccine each year protects your child from the most common type of influenza virus around each season.

Children aged 6 months to <5 years are eligible for a free influenza vaccine every year. Some providers may charge an administration or consultation fee. It is best to ask your provider if this applies to you.

12 months

At the 12-month appointment, babies will be measured, and their developmental milestones, like movement, will be tracked. 

The doctor or nurse will discuss:

  • development of movement and speech
  • transitioning to solid food as the primary source of nutrition
  • teething
  • transitioning from a bottle to a sippy, straw or open cup
  • transitioning from infant formula to cow’s milk
  • support for continuing breastfeeding
  • any other questions or concerns.                           

The 12-month vaccines include protection against:

Developmental milestones

The first year of a baby's life is filled with incredible milestones that mark their growth and development. Things like first steps, first words, or even reaching out for a toy for the first time are all exciting moments that show just how much they are learning. 

Families are eager to see their babies grow and develop at the same pace as others, but comparing each child's development can cause unnecessary anxiety and stress. 

It is important to remember that every baby grows at their own pace, and developmental milestones are windows that help guide the support a child may need.

You will find a breakdown of the developmental milestones below.

Gross motor

Gross motor skills use larger muscles in the body to help you perform basic movements. Things you might do without thinking, such as walking, running, and jumping, all start with the basic development of gross motor skills. 

Fine motor

Fine motor skills involve coordinating small muscles in the wrist, hand, fingers, and toes. Fine motor skills help babies to interact with the world in more detail and build towards bigger skills like independent eating, playing with toys, and writing.


Language skills are the ability to communicate thoughts, feelings, and needs with others. Babies will develop their language initially through behaviour and sounds before building skills like speech, sign language and writing.

The milestones below are generalised and do not consider: 

  • hearing impairment
  • disability that affects learning and ability to vocalise
  • babies in families that speak multiple languages. 

Language development in bilingual babies is covered in the next section. 

Social and emotional

Social and emotional skills are the ability to interact with others, form and maintain relationships, regulate emotions, and respond to the feelings of others. 

In the first year, foundations will be laid for: 

  • self-regulation of emotions
  • self-soothing
  • empathy
  • positive relationships with adults and other children. 

Development of these skills can be influenced by things like:

  • environment
  • genetics
  • disability
  • world events and trauma
  • life experiences of parents and carers. 

Birth to 3 months

Developmental milestones from birth to 3 months are broken down below, along with some easy activities for supporting growth and development.

Gross motor skills

Discovering movement

In the first few months, babies will start to:

  • gently move their head from side to side while on their tummy
  • lift their head and chest when placed on their tummy, with great effort
  • use their arms to support their upper body on their back or tummy
  • kick and stretch their legs out with excitement
  • become very interested in their hands, bringing them to their face and grasping at objects.

Try activities such as:

  • laying your baby on their tummy and shaking a rattle in front of them
  • singing songs and playing music
  • slowly moving bright-coloured objects from side to side in front of their face.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby:

  • can’t lift their head even slightly during tummy time.

Fine motor skills

Early grasping

In the first few months, babies will start to:

  • clench their fists with their fingers wrapped around their thumb
  • show an involuntary reflex called the palmar grasp, where stroking their palm causes their fingers to close tightly
  • relax and open their hands, holding objects and bringing them to their mouth.

Try activities such as:

  • dangling colourful toys above to reach and swat at
  • offering items such as balls and rattles with a variety of colours and textures
  • placing objects in your baby's palm to trigger the palmar grasp.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby:

  • doesn’t follow things with their eyes
  • keeps their hands clenched.

Language and communication

Communication foundations

During pregnancy, your baby could hear the familiar sounds of your voice. 

In the first few months outside, babies will start to:

  • recognise voices more clearly, even if you're not in the same room
  • smile and gurgle to engage with you
  • make very early sounds like coo-ing, ooh-ooh-ooh and ah-ah-ah.

Try activities such as:

  • narrating your everyday activities with baby, describing what you see and what you're doing
  • singing and reading out loud to your baby
  • having "conversations" with your baby by giving eye contact and enthusiastically answering their sounds.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby does not seem to hear you or respond to sound.

Social and emotional

Building trust and connection

Babies will bond with their parents and carers as they grow and have their needs met.

In the first few months, babies will start to:

  • calm down when spoken to or picked up by a parent or carer
  • recognise your face and respond with intentional smiles
  • cry as a form of communication for hunger, discomfort, or wanting to be held
  • prefer contact naps as a way of connecting with you.

Try activities such as:

  • responding quickly and calmly to your baby's cries to build trust and security.
  • maintaining eye contact, smiling, and talking or singing gently to grow emotional connections
  • using a mirror to help your baby explore facial expressions which will build the foundations for self-awareness.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby doesn't smile or start to interact with others.

4 to 7 months

Developmental milestones from 4 to7 months are broken down below, along with some easy activities for supporting growth and development.

Gross motor skills

Rolling and sitting

Babies will make some big leaps with movement during this period.

They will start to:

  • hold their head up with confidence
  • roll from front to back and back to front, getting faster and faster
  • start to sit up with support from their hands
  • explore their immediate surroundings by grabbing and grasping
  • learn how to sit without support.

Try activities such as:

  • moving toys slightly out of reach
  • handing your baby toys or items to hold
  • placing toys in their diagonal line of vision when on the floor to encourage rolling.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby:

  • can’t hold up their head and shoulders when on the ground
  • can’t hold up their head when sitting with support.

Fine motor skills

Exploring with hands

During this period, babies will start to take a liking to objects and realise they have hands. 

They will start to:

  • grip, grasp, and manipulate toys and other objects by putting them in their mouth and transferring them between hands
  • use clawing and raking motions with their hands to bring items closer, pick them up and examine them closely.

Try activities such as:

  • threading ribbons through a baking rack for your baby to grasp and pull 
  • giving your baby large slices of safe foods like avocado or teething rusks to hold and explore
  • balling up or wrapping paper around the holiday season for your baby to crinkle and crush with their hands.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby:

  • isn’t reaching things or holding objects
  • keeps their hands clenched
  • doesn’t track things with their eyes and head
  • doesn’t bring things to their mouth
  • can’t bring their hands together in the middle of their body.

Language and communication

Babbling babies

Between 4 to 7 months, your baby will know who you are and what you sound like. 

They will also start to:

  • babble or baby talk, making sounds like muh-muh or bah-bah
  • test just how loud their voice is by screeching 
  • become more aware of voice cues, like recognising sing-song words you might say before a bath or going out for the day.

Continue activities like:

  • having baby conversations and experimenting with volume, emphasis, and emotions like surprise
  • narrating your day-to-day activities, trying new environments, like the zoo or aquarium
  • continuing to read and sing, trying board books that involve interaction, like lifting flaps.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby doesn’t start to babble or vocalise.

Social and emotional development

Exploring emotions and social play

Babies will start to engage and connect with you more during this period. 

They will also start to:

  • smile on their own or in response to you for positive attention
  • start to laugh in response to play or noise
  • look at you more intentionally and try to keep you engaged with vocalisation and movement.

Try activities such as:

  • encouraging smiles and laughter through music and play
  • playing peek-a-boo games to explore reactions like surprise and different emotions
  • using a mirror to make funny faces.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby:

  • doesn’t smile or interact with others
  • doesn’t seem to make eye contact
  • doesn’t make facial expressions.

8 to 12 months

Developmental milestones from 8-12 months are broken down below, along with some easy activities for supporting growth and development.

Gross motor skills

Crawling, standing, and potential first steps

Babies approaching their first birthday may be on the move.

They will start to:

  • get into a seated position by themselves and stay there without help
  • crawl on their tummy, sometimes pulling and pushing with arms and legs
  • get up on their hands and knees, rocking back and forth to practice their balance and coordination
  • crawl slowly at first, then fast
  • pull themselves up into a standing position and hold their body weight through their legs
  • cruise along couches and furniture, practising side steps and balancing with more stability
  • take a small number of steps on their own.

Try activities such as:

  • making music with shakers, pots, and pans
  • placing toys a short distance away to encourage crawling and, eventually, walking
  • providing surfaces like furniture or a small handrail for your baby to practice pulling to stand and cruising.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby:

  • isn’t moving at all, including commando crawl and shuffling
  • is not pulling to stand independently and holding on to things for support.

Fine motor skills

Precision and coordination

Babies will use their developing fine motor skills to grab your attention and your keys. 

They will start to:

  • develop a pincer grasp with their thumb and forefinger, pulling wipes out of a packet or stealing bits of your food
  • learn about cause and effect, for example, tossing a spoon to the ground and watching you pick it back up
  • get more coordinated in their exploration, figuring out latches, door hinges and opening drawers.

Try activities such as:

  • games that require hand-eye coordination, like rolling a ball back and forth
  • hiding things inside containers with lids to open and close
  • letting them freely explore indoors and outside, with close supervision.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby:

  • doesn’t hold objects independently
  • doesn’t hand objects to other people on request
  • cannot move an object from one hand to the other
  • seems to prefer using one side of their body over the other.

Language and communication

Getting closer to first words

Babies will slowly become more confident in telling you what they want, even if they can't be understood yet.

They start to:

  • change babbles into more defined syllables, like ba, da, and ma.
  • link syllables to meaning based on your reaction, like recognising your excitement with ma-ma or da-da and associating the sound with you
  • understand some commonly used words and phrases, like milk, sleep or nappy.

Try activities such as:

  • encouraging your baby to copy the sound you make, and copying the sounds your baby makes in return
  • getting more adventurous with items and environments you describe, like using kitchen equipment or reading out food items at the shops
  • speaking in 'parentese' - using a sing-song voice, higher pitch and stretched-out vowels when speaking to your baby to help them focus on words.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby doesn't:

  • babble using syllables, like dadadada or lalalala
  • respond or "chat" when spoken to
  • gesture using waves or pointing
  • have any familiar words that get a response, like "bottle" or "bath".

Social and emotional development

Expressing independence and identity

Babies will develop their own personalities, likes, dislikes and individual traits that make them unique. 

They will start to:

  • show shyness and fear around strangers or even people they have met before
  • show different facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, and surprise
  • respond to their name and react when you leave their line of sight.

Try activities such as:

  • labelling emotions when they happen and providing reassurance - "I can see you are scared; it's ok to be scared. We will go home now, where you can calm down and play with your toys."
  • using puppets to interact and demonstrate different situations
  • using sensory play, like sand or water, to process physical emotions safely.

Check-in with your doctor or nurse if your baby doesn't:

  • show signs of enjoyment like laughter or smiles
  • notice or respond to new people
  • start to take turns in play, like peekaboo.

Developmental milestones are a guide. Every child is different.

Checking in with your doctor or child and family health nurse will check that your baby is on track and within the developmental windows rather than focusing on a set timeline. 

Early assessment and support are positive things for babies, and help them to catch up on milestones and develop well.

Things to consider with development

Equipment and baby-proofing


It's tempting to buy baby equipment to encourage movement in your baby. 

These might include things like:

  • positioners
  • supported seats
  • seated walkers
  • jumpers
  • neck floaties. 

This equipment is not necessary for babies to develop properly and can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Equipment that forces or holds your baby in a position they cannot get into on their own can cause issues with muscle and bone development and can cause suffocation. 

If families choose to use these products, they should do so sparingly and under strict supervision for very short periods.

If you're unsure about baby items and play equipment, speak to your local doctor, child and family health nurse or paediatric physiotherapist for information and advice.


Safety becomes more and more important as babies develop their gross and fine motor skills. 

Families can often feel like their baby has picked up new skills overnight, climbing, crawling and putting small objects in their mouth without warning.

See 'Home safety' for information on baby-proofing, managing pets, and first aid for choking and poisons.

Multilingual babies

Learning just one language is difficult and takes time. Babies who grow up in a household with multiple languages may take a bit more time to develop their skills, but it does not mean they are delayed.

Learning multiple languages has great advantages for babies, including: 

  • a bigger vocabulary and better reading skills
  • more advanced problem-solving skills
  • better memory.

Babies learning multiple languages will follow similar milestones, with some key differences. 

These can include:

  • language mixing: using two or more languages in the same sentence 
  • code-switching: switching back and forth between languages from one sentence to another
  • language choice: using one language, dependent on the situation or who they are speaking to.

Multilingual families can support their baby's development by: 

  • regularly speaking in other languages at home
  • playing radio, music, or television in other languages in the background
  • using books written in other languages
  • using toys that speak in other languages.

If you are concerned about language delay or are looking for opportunities for your child to be immersed in another language, speak to your doctor or child and family health nurse about bilingual speech pathologists.

Baby sign language

Baby sign language is when a baby uses their hands to express their needs and reduce their frustration. This tool is used before babies develop language through speaking. 

Baby sign language differs from Auslan, as It is more universal and based on body language and actions.

There is no specific age to start with baby sign language, but babies may have an easier time learning when their fine motor skills improve around 9 months old.

Four common and useful baby signs include:

  1. milk: opening and closing the hand from a fist to splayed fingers
  2. more: bunching your hands so that your fingers touch your thumb and then meeting them together in front of you
  3. all done: holding up hands with palms opened outwards and flicking the wrist so they rotate inwards 
  4. up: raising one index finger to the sky or raising both hands above the head.

Babies will eventually stop signing once they can express themselves through speech. It is not an essential skill but can be a fun family bonding activity.

Parent groups

Around 4 weeks after birth, the local health district will reach out to book some appointments and set you up with a parents group.

Parent groups usually meet at the local community health centre but can also be held online in some situations. The group will be made up of other first-time parents in your area who have had a baby around the same time. 

Parent groups are optional but can be an excellent opportunity to:

  • socialise and connect with other families going through the exact development at the same time
  • learn valuable tips and strategies about feeding, settling, and soothing your baby
  • access support services offered by community health
  • set your child up with a group of babies to socialise with as they grow.

After the sessions finish, the group is encouraged to meet up regularly for as long as they want to. 

Local community health centres can also help with other types of support groups, including:

  • dads, carers and non-birthing parents
  • second or third-time parents
  • playgroups for older children
  • birth trauma
  • breastfeeding
  • LGBTIQ families.

Bonding with your baby as the dad, carer or non-birthing parent

Bonding with a new baby can seem daunting for parents and carers who were not pregnant and are not breastfeeding. 

It can feel overwhelming to figure out how to connect with a baby in the early months while they tend to rely heavily on one parent. 

Try the following tips to encourage bonding with your baby:

Become a nappy expert

Taking over the nappy changes can be an excellent way for parents and carers to bond with their baby while giving the other parent a break. 

Providing your baby with laughter and entertainment while you care for their hygiene can build your emotional attachment and make everyday parenting tasks a joy.

Try things like:

  • playing and singing a special song
  • giving your baby a certain toy to hold during the change
  • talking through what you are doing as you change the nappy.

Skin-to-skin contact

Oxytocin is a hormone made by the body as part of the human reproductive system. 

It helps with things like:

  • childbirth
  • milk production
  • emotional attachment
  • developing relationships.

This hormone is sometimes called the "love hormone" and is clinically proven to increase when:

  • hugging
  • kissing
  • breastfeeding
  • skin to skin contact

Skin-to-skin contact is when a parent or carer holds their baby to their chest without separation from clothes or blankets.  

Skin-to-skin contact is also clinically proven to regulate your baby's temperature and heart rate while lowering stress and anxiety. 

All you need to do is take off your shirt, dress your baby in only a nappy, and find a comfy couch or chair to settle down for a cuddle or feed.

Be in charge of the bottles

Parents can provide much-needed support by taking charge of things like:

  • cleaning equipment
  • filling water bottles
  • providing snacks while your partner is feeding the baby. 

If your baby is fed using a bottle, you can try sharing feeds. This will help you both have a well-earned break and give each parent quality bonding time.

Sharing feeds can be difficult for exclusively breastfed babies, and many parents want to share the load by doing bottle feeds overnight.

Milk production is supply and demand, so skipping breastfeeding overnight for a bottle can have unintended consequences on: 

  • breastfeeding
  • milk supply
  • breast health.

Parents and carers should plan how they want to feed and what type of support they would like. 

The 5 S' of settling

The five S’ of settling are:

  • swaddling: learn how to wrap baby securely and comfortably
  • side or stomach position: lay baby over your arm or hold them on their side
  • shushing: practice your wave sounds, or find a favourite white noise track
  • swinging: learn to rock baby rhythmically from side to side
  • sucking: help baby with their sucking reflex by giving cuddles and a dummy.

These five activities can help parents settle their baby and try different things during more intense periods of crying. 

Providing comfort and security to your baby is one of the best ways you can bond and can help when your partner needs time to sleep or eat.

Baby massage

Baby massage can help with:

  • bonding
  • relaxation and settling
  • moisturising the skin.

Use a pure, edible oil, like apricot or olive, to gently massage your baby’s skin after a bath or before bedtime.

Take a walk

Taking your baby out for a walk in the carrier or pram is a great way to settle your baby, bond with them, and get them used to new environments.

It can also be an opportunity for your partner to get some rest and alone time.

Developmental delays in the first year

Developmental milestones generally happen within a windows of a few months. 

These windows are a guide, and it is normal for children to learn early or late in these windows.

It is normal for parents to be anxious about developmental delay in the first 12 months. 

Developmental delay can be when a child: 

  • develops skills slower than other children in the same age group
  • passes a certain window of time without developing a particular skill.

Remember that a delay does not always mean there is a long-term issue. Sometimes, it means your child needs a bit of extra support in a particular area. 

Check in with your local doctor If you: 

  • notice over several months that your child isn't developing skills at the same rate as other children their age
  • would like some extra guidance or support on how to help your child develop certain skills
  • are otherwise worried or have any questions.

There are services available that can assess and support children with developmental delays to reach developmental milestones at their own pace.

Identifying developmental delays early means earlier access to support and better outcomes for your child and family.

Early Intervention

Support for children with developmental delays is called early intervention. 

Early intervention helps children "catch up" and includes therapy, support and education from health professionals.

Support can come from health professionals, including: 

  • occupational therapists 
  • audiologists 
  • physiotherapists 
  • psychologists 
  • speech pathologists 
  • social workers. 

Early intervention helps children to develop the skills they need to thrive.

Physical activity

Regular physical activity is essential to support a child's:

  • physical growth
  • emotional resilience
  • learning and problem-solving skills
  • social development. 

While very young babies can't crawl or walk just yet, there are other ways they can get moving.

Activities like tummy time and supervised floor-based play are an excellent way for your baby to develop and strengthen their: 

  • bones, muscles and joints
  • immune system
  • balance
  • flexibility
  • posture
  • coordination.

Early physical activity helps to set children up with healthy, long-term habits.

Recommendations for babies 0-12 months

As babies grow and develop over their first year, their physical activity requirements and preferences will change. The amount and type of activity they need will also depend on which stage of gross motor development they are in. 

For babies who are very young or not moving yet, it's recommended that they spend around 30 minutes each day doing tummy time and supervised floor-based play. This should include activities that involve reaching and grasping, pushing and pulling. 

Babies who are rolling, crawling, and cruising may not need much encouragement to be active as they explore their new skills. Encourage them to stay active by providing plenty of opportunities for exploration and outside play throughout the day.

Daily movement will help babies reach key developmental milestones for their growth and development. 

See 'Physical activity' for more information.

Tummy time

Tummy time is an activity where a baby is laid on their stomach while they are awake and supervised. 

Although babies may struggle at first, tummy time helps them to:

  • strengthen their neck, shoulder, and back muscles
  • lift their head and take weight through their arms
  • reach out, roll, and move around
  • track objects that move with their eyes
  • develop balance and stability.

Tummy time can also help prevent the back of the head from flattening while it is still soft. 

Parents and carers should supervise their baby and provide stimuli like toys to help them during tummy time.

Tummy time helps babies prepare for future milestones like rolling, sitting, crawling, standing, and walking. 

Many babies find tummy time uncomfortable and may cry during the activity. Although this is normal, it can be stressful for parents and carers.

Babies will usually resist tummy time in the beginning as they need to work hard to strengthen their muscles. To make the activity more interesting, try using different pictures, toys and sounds during tummy time for distraction.

Tummy time should start in the first couple of weeks after birth. Since sleeping and eating take priority, it is okay to start slowly with 1-2 minutes at a time, a few times a day.

As they grow older, babies should have at least 10-15 minutes of tummy time, 2-3 times per day. This will add up to around 30 minutes spread throughout the day.

Keep increasing the duration of tummy time and provide lots of toys, noise and encouragement. Before long, babies will realise they can get out of tummy time by working on rolling from front to back.

Tips for tummy time

Here are some tips for tummy time:

  • ask your doctor or nurse whether you can start as soon as possible after birth
  • follow a loose "eat, play, sleep" schedule in the first few months to help get into a pattern
  • help younger babies lift their heads by placing their shoulders and arms over a rolled-up towel or blanket
  • do short, frequent periods of tummy time instead of one longer session
  • if possible, join your baby by lying on your tummy and facing them
  • use age-appropriate toys, pictures, and noises to encourage your baby to look, play, and reach
  • if your baby is getting upset on the floor, try laying them over your lap or chest or draping them over your forearm while supporting them with your other hand.

Always supervise your baby during tummy time.

Remember: Back to sleep, tummy to play.

You should always place your baby to sleep on their back as it helps keep their airways clear and their protective reflexes working. 

This reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

See Newborn sleep for more information on safe sleeping practices.

Screen time

Screens have become an increasing part of day-to-day life. They can be used for things like:

  • everyday tasks and life skills
  • entertainment
  • social connection with friends and family
  • learning
  • being creative.

Too much screen time can impact a child's learning and development. It's important to understand how to realistically manage screen time while also considering the current recommendations for different ages.  

Screen time recommendations:

For children under the age of 2, it is recommended to avoid any sedentary screen time.

Sedentary screen time is when a child is sitting still or not moving while watching a screen.

Babies learn the most from face-to-face interactions. Many families with friends and relatives living far away use video-chatting apps like Messenger, Facebook or WhatsApp to stay connected. 

It's okay to use screen time to catch up with long-distance friends and family as long as your baby is primarily interacting with other people in person.

Families need to consider the use of screens in their daily lives and whether screen time is replacing:

  • opportunities for learning
  • social interaction
  • physical objects that can help babies develop other skills, like puzzles or blocks.

As babies grow, they start to imitate the behaviour of those around them. A baby who is exposed to a lot of screen time during the day may develop behaviours like:

  • wanting to hold or use a parent or carer's phone all the time
  • needing to look at a screen while eating 
  • needing to use a screen to keep occupied instead of developing independent play skills.

Excessive screen time can also disrupt a baby's sleep patterns, emotional regulation, self-soothing skills, and attention span.

See Screen time for more information.


Adjusting to parenthood can be challenging, especially when it comes to changes in sleep patterns. Below is a brief guide to help you understand baby sleep during the first 12 months.

Remember, every baby is different and will have their own unique sleep habits. If you're struggling with your baby's sleep or your own lack of sleep, don't hesitate to reach out to your doctor for support.

0 to 3 months

As they grow, a baby's sleep patterns change significantly in the first three months of life.

In these first three months, babies will:

  • sleep for around 14-17 hours per day in short bursts
  • sleep for 2-3 hour periods and then wake up for feeds
  • need help settling to sleep.

Babies, parents and caregivers will all learn to communicate with each other and understand signals for basic needs during this period. It's important to be flexible and follow your baby's lead.

3 to 6 months

By the time a baby is three months old, their sleeping patterns should start to mature and become slightly more predictable.

During this time, a baby will: 

  • start to produce melatonin, which will help their internal body clock with more regular bedtimes
  • sleep for 2-3 hour periods and wake for feeds
  • have around three naps during the day
  • still need help settling to sleep.

Babies may also begin to roll over in their sleep, so it's important to transition from swaddling to a sleep sack that allows their arms to be free.

Doing this helps babies to roll back over and lower the risk of SIDs.

During the day, babies usually follow a pattern of waking up, playing, feeding, and then returning to sleep.

Consistent bedtime routines can create a positive association with sleep, making it easier to transition into longer evening sleep. 

This routine might include a bath, song, story, or any other calming signal that lets the baby know it's time to wind down. 

6 to 9 months

Sleep patterns should become more predictable at six to nine months, and sleep signals may be easier to recognise.

At this stage, a baby may drop from three to two naps, which can take a while to get used to.

Babies will also learn the difference between day and night and may slowly lower their need for night feeds. This leads to sleeping for longer stretches of up to six hours or more at night.

On average, babies between six and nine months need 12-16 hours of sleep within a 24-hour cycle. They will need help settling to sleep and may still wake up regularly throughout the night while they develop the ability to self-soothe.

Developmental milestones, such as crawling or teething, can affect a baby's sleep and lead to periods of "sleep regression."

Regression might include:

  • waking up more during the night
  • shorted naps than usual
  • resisting sleep
  • more crying than usual.

Babies who have started rolling will need to transition to having their arms free during sleep time to lower the risk of SIDs.

9 to 2 months

As babies grow, they will have longer periods of being awake and will want to explore their surroundings.

Sleep developments between six to nine months can include:

  • needing around 10-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period
  • fighting naps during the day
  • dropping from two naps to just one
  • dropping overnight feeds and stretching out evening sleep.

Babies will also start to use self-soothing methods like: 

  • sucking on their hands
  • making quiet humming noises
  • rubbing their hair and ears
  • using fine motor skills to put a dummy back in their mouth if it has fallen out.

Developmental milestones and growth changes will still impact sleep, and caregivers are still needed to provide comfort and help with settling.

Safe sleeping

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a term used when a baby below the age of 12 months dies unexpectedly. Managing a baby's sleeping environment is the best way to make sure they are safe and lower the risk of SIDs.

See Newborn sleep for more information.

Sleep support

Sleep struggles and deprivation are not something that you should have to face alone. See Newborn sleep for information, advice, and useful helplines.

Dental hygiene

Babies' dental development

A baby's first set of teeth develop inside the gums from the 16th week of pregnancy and are almost fully formed at birth. They are also known as primary teeth.

Good health and diet during pregnancy increase the strength of a baby's primary teeth. See Nutrition during pregnancy for more information.

Looking after baby’s new teeth

Getting a first tooth is an exciting and sometimes painful milestone for babies. Teething can start between 3 and 12 months, but is common around nine months.

Here are some quick tips on how to care for a baby's gums and new teeth in their first year:

  • before teeth appear, use a clean, damp cloth to wipe the gums gently after each feed
  • as soon as a tooth appears, start brushing it twice a day with soft bristles
  • for babies under 18 months, only use water for brushing teeth
  • visit a local dentist for advice on dental care and to check the development of teeth.

Book your child's first dental appointment when their first tooth emerges or by their first birthday, whichever comes first.


Teething is a significant milestone in a baby's first year. It can be a long and uncomfortable process that causes discomfort, stress and anxiety for both parents and babies. Understanding the teething process can help parents and carers manage any stress and give their babies some relief while their new teeth are arriving.

Teething typically begins around three months, with the first tooth often appearing anywhere between 3-12 months. 

Teeth will usually appear or erupt from the gums in the following order:

  1. Central incisors: top and bottom front teeth
  2. Lateral incisors: the two teeth on either side of the central incisors
  3. First molars: larger, flatter teeth towards the back of the mouth
  4. Eyeteeth or canines: the two, longer and pointier teeth on either side of the lateral incisors.

Signs of teething

Teething is a natural process that can cause some side effects in babies that look like illness.

Along with a strong urge to chew on hard objects like keys, babies may:

  • drool more than usual
  • develop a drool rash on the cheeks and around the mouth
  • become irritable or upset
  • eat less
  • have disrupted sleep and feeding schedules
  • develop a slightly increased temperature.

Some babies will not be bothered by teething; others may become very unsettled.

While teething can occasionally cause a slight increase in body temperature, it should not lead to a high fever or diarrhea. 

See your local doctor if your baby develops a high fever or becomes seriously ill while teething.

Tips on managing the teething process

Here are some tips to help make teething more comfortable for babies:

  • prevent and manage drool rash by gently wiping the face, applying a facial barrier cream, and using a cloth bib
  • provide safe items for babies to chew on, like chilled wet washcloths or teething toys that are one solid piece
  • avoid teething toys that are filled with liquid or come apart in pieces 
  • introduce hard rusks and thick, frozen fruit slices like orange wedges when your baby is over six months old
  • use over-the-counter pain relief like baby paracetamol and ibuprofen to manage fever and pain.

Myths about teething management

There are several myths about teething management that could be harmful to babies and may even cause death.

It's essential for parents and carers to follow these safety tips when managing teething: 

  • never give aspirin to babies
  • never apply alcohol or honey to a baby's gums or a dummy
  • never use amber teething necklaces, bracelets, or anklets, as they can cause strangulation and death
  • avoid using teething gels and tablets unless prescribed by a doctor.

Baby hygiene

Bathing your baby

A baby's delicate skin should only be washed with plain water during the first few months. As they get older, parents and carers can try different baby bath products to make bath time more engaging. 

Choose products that are made for babies, are gentle on the skin, and do not contain any fragrances or harsh soaps.

Avoid using products like bubble baths for as long as possible, as they can increase the risk of urinary tract infections in some children.

Trimming nails

Baby nails usually don't need frequent trimming early on, but getting into the habit is important. Taking care of a baby's finger and toenails can help prevent accidental scratches and avoid infections from dirt buildup.


  • using clippers, scissors, or a gentle file designed for baby fingers. 
  • trimming nails while baby is distracted, feeding, or sleeping. 
  • using baby mittens or socks on the hands to prevent scratchingin the first couple of weeks after birth.

Babies use their hands and mouth to self-soothe and explore, so it's important not to cover their hands for long periods.


Parents and carers will change hundreds or even thousands of nappies as their baby grows. Click through the below headings for advice, support, and tips.

Changing a nappy

Changing a baby's nappy can be done on different surfaces, such as the bed, the floor, a changing table, or even the boot of a car. Make sure these surfaces are secure so babies are safe from falls during a nappy change.

Parents and carers should also bend safely while changing to avoid discomfort or back pain.

Changing a baby's nappy for the first time can be overwhelming, so the steps are broken down below:

  1. gather supplies such as:
    • a clean nappy
    • wipes
    • a damp washcloth
    • barrier cream
    • spare clothes
    • a plastic bag or bin for dirty nappies
  2. lay the baby down on a changing pad or mat and keep them entertained by singing a song or giving them an object to hold
  3. remove clothing from the baby's bottom half, where possible, pulling downwards to avoid getting poo on their head
  4. open the clean nappy and place it under the baby's bottom
  5. open the tabs on either side of the dirty nappy and drag the front half down across the penis or vulva to wipe off any poo
  6. lift baby's bottom gently and fold the front of the dirty nappy back over the other half
  7. wipe baby's bottom from front to back to remove poo from the skin, using a fresh wipe each time
  8. wipe any remaining poo away from the penis or vulva, taking care not to move any poo inside
  9. remove the folded, dirty nappy from underneath, place the used wipes inside and use the sticky tabs to close it up
  10. make sure the new nappy is still clean and in the right position, using a new nappy if there is any poo or urine
  11. apply a layer of barrier cream around the anus and vulva or penis, covering any redness on the skin
  12. secure the nappy using the sticky tabs and check that the elastic around the legs is fluffed out and secure.

"Poo explosions" and nappy leaks are common in the first year. Try and clean all poo and urine off a baby's skin, giving them a bath where appropriate.

Nappy care and safety

Changing nappies is one of the biggest parts of hygiene for babies, so picking the right nappy for your family is important.

Both disposable and reusable nappies have advantages and disadvantages to consider, like:

  • amount of waste generated
  • impact on the environment
  • cost for buying and washing
  • how easy they are to use.

It's also important to have a space in the home that is safe and comfortable for nappy changing, whether it's on the bed, on a change table or the floor. 

Never leave your baby unattended on a changing table, even if they are secured with a strap.

As babies start to roll and crawl, changing them on their backs can become challenging, unhygienic, and sometimes dangerous. When a baby becomes too active to change on their back, try standing them up and using nappy pants.

Nappy hygiene

Good nappy hygiene is important for avoiding the spread of germs, preventing infections, and protecting against nappy rash. 

Nappy hygiene tips include:

  • washing hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after every nappy change
  • immediately moving any dirty wipes or nappies away from the baby during a change 
  • sealing used, disposable nappies and wipes in a tied plastic bag or nappy bin, keeping them out of reach of curious pets and other children 
  • removing any solid poo from reusable nappies before washing by scraping it away with a tissue or toilet paper and flushing it down the toilet
  • making sure to apply nappy cream around the anus and penis or vulva before securing the new nappy in place 
  • following the wash routine instructions for reusable nappies, using hot water at least 60°C and making sure they are completely dry before using them again.
If your baby has a penis:If your baby has a vulva:
  • place a washcloth or wipe over the penis to avoid any surprise wee
  • gently clean around the penis and scrotum to make sure there is no poo left in the skin folds 
  • clean the penis like you would a finger, and do not retract the foreskin 
  • check for strands of hair that can get wrapped around fingers, toes and the penis
  • point the penis downwards before securing the nappy to avoid wee coming out the top or sides.
  • place a washcloth or wipe over the vulva to avoid any surprise wees 
  • gently clean between the creases of the vulva and labia, making sure to wipe front to back. 


Minimise the impact on the environment for both disposable and reusable nappies by removing any solid pieces of poo and flushing them before disposing or washing them. 

Nappy rash

Nappy rash can be common in babies and happens when urine and poo are in contact with the skin for too long. 
It can be prevented and managed by: 

  • changing nappies regularly - at least every 2-3 hours and immediately after seeing or smelling poo and urine 
  • avoiding plastic nappy covers
  • using barrier creams that contain zinc oxide
  • not using talcum powder, soap or fragranced products
  • giving babies lots of nappy-free time to air out their skin
  • checking any rashes and seeing a doctor if concerned.

See the Nappy rash factsheet for more information.

Poo and wee: what to expect


Baby's wee should be clear or pale with no smell. Dark or smelly wee means baby isn't getting enough milk or infant formula. 

A good way to check is by counting the number of wet nappies in a day- around 5 wet disposable or 6-8 wet cloth nappies are normal.

Newborn pooA newborn baby's first poo is black, sticky meconium as they clear their digestive system. After a few days, their poo will become less sticky and greenish-brown in color. Once they start breast milk or infant formula, their poo will change again.
Breastfed infants poo

During the first few days, breast fed babies will have frequent bowel motions due to the laxative effect of colostrum in breast milk. From around day give, breastfed babies usually have soft, yellow or mustard-coloured poo, similar to toothpaste. They will usually do three or more poos daily during the first six weeks. This is a sign that they are getting a good supply of breastmilk.

As babies grow, their poos become less frequent but more varied in texture and colour. Baby poo will look and smell different if they change from breast milk to infant formula and when they start solids.

Changes in the frequency of poos are generally not a concern as long as they are otherwise well and gaining weight.

Infant formula poo

Babies fed with infant formula generally have firmer and less runny poos. Formula-fed poo can look like a thick paste and can range in colour from yellow-brown to greenish-brown.

Formula fed babies and older children will usually pass a stool every few days.  

Poos when starting solids

When a baby starts learning to eat solid foods, their poo will naturally change. Usually, poo will become more formed but still soft and brown in colour.

Baby poo may start to smell more after starting solids, and there may be small bits of food left in the nappy, depending on what they have eaten.

Warning signs

Sudden changes in a baby's poo can be concerning.

See your local doctor as soon as possible if you notice warning signs like: 

  • newborn babies - black sticky poo that does not change to green or yellow in the first few days after birth
  • your baby has not passed done a poo in the first 24-48 hours of life
  • unable to pass gas or wind
  • constipation - small, hard or pebbly poo that causes babies to strain or appears difficult to push out
  • diarrhea - loose, watery or runny poo
  • blood in the poo
  • pale yellow, white or grey poo
  • green, frothy and explosive poo
  • mucus in the poo.

It can be helpful to take a photo of the poo to show the doctor.

See the Constipation factsheet for more information.


The first year of a baby's life is crucial for their growth and development, and nutrition plays an important role. As babies grow, their nutritional needs will change to support different developmental stages. This section will explore the relationship between baby nutrition and development.

See Infant and baby nutrition for detailed information on nutrition recommendations, advice, and support in the early years.

0 to 6 months: Breastfeeding and infant formula

Breastmilk is a complete source of nutrition for babies that adapts and changes to meet their needs. It is a living substance that provides all the nutrients a growing baby needs during their first six months. When combined with solid foods, breastmilk can provide around half to a third of a child's nutrition from 12 months onwards. 

Colostrum is an early, nutrient-dense form of breastmilk.

Breastfeeding is when a baby is fed using breast milk. Breastfed babies can be fed straight from the breast or using a bottle for pumped and donated milk.

Infant formula is a special type of milk powder developed for babies who are not breastfed. 


Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for babies until around six months of age, where possible. 

Breastfeeding can be challenging for parents and babies, so it's important to remember that even a small amount of breastmilk in the early months can have health benefits.

Newborn babies will start their breastfeeding journey by drinking colostrum.

Colostrum is rich in nutrients, good bacteria and antibodies that help prevent infections. Colostrum will also transition slowly from a thick and sticky texture to milk, giving babies time to learn how to latch and suck at the breast.

Health benefits of breastmilk for babies include:

  • immune system support
  • antibodies and good bacteria that lower the risk of infections and conditions like gastroenteritis and type-2 diabetes
  • fats that can support brain development
  • nutrients that support eyesight development
  • lowered risk of SIDs.

Breastfeeding directly from the breast can also help a baby's jaw muscles, teeth and airways develop well and may lower the risk of ear infections. 

Breastmilk can also provide a clean, secure food source for babies in areas with limited power and clean water.

Breastfeeding is a new skill and can be challenging for both parents and babies. 
Check in with an internationally board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC)  for information and suport to help with your breastfeeding journey.

Infant formula

There are many reasons why a baby cannot be breastfed. Parents and carers should be informed and supported to feed their babies in a way that works best for their family and their health. 

Infant formula is a specially formulated milk powder that can be an alternative to breastmilk for babies up to 12 months of age. 

Most infant formulas are made from cow's milk that has been changed to meet the nutritional needs of babies aged 0-6 months and 6-12 months, respectively. 

Cow's milk in its natural form is not a substitute for infant formula and should not be given to babies under 12 months old as a meal replacement or drink.

All infant formulas available for purchase in Australia are required to meet the strict food standards of the Australia New Zealand Food Standard Code (FSANZ). There are many different brands and types of infant formula available. 

The amount of formula a baby needs will depend on their age, weight, and what other foods they are eating. It is important to seek guidance from a doctor or child and family health nurse to check what type of infant formula to use and how much to feed your baby each day. 

Infant formula must be prepared in a specific way to avoid contamination and bacteria. Bottles and equipment used to prepare infant formula must be sterilised before each use, and foruma should only be prepared using water that has been boiled and cooled.

Mixed feeding

Some babies are fed using both breast milk and infant formula. This is called mixed feeding. 

There are many reasons why families may choose to mix-feed their baby. It is important for parents and carers to receive proper information and support to feed their babies in a way that works best for them and their health. 

Mixed feeding may require extra support from an IBCLC, local doctor or child and family health nurse to ensure the breastmilk supply is managed well.

Feeding reflexes in the first six months

During the first few months, babies have several reflexes that help them to feed, develop, and survive.

Rooting reflex

A newborn baby will turn their head, open their mouth, and start to nuzzle when their cheek or mouth is touched. This is the rooting reflex.

The rooting reflex helps babies to find the breast or bottle. This reflex will start to settle around four months of age as they begin to control how they look for food.

Suck-swallow reflex

A newborn baby will automatically suck and swallow rhythmically on a nipple, teat, finger, or safe toy when it is placed in their mouth. This is the suck-swallow reflex.

The suck-swallow reflex helps babies to be able to feed, breathe and lay back at the same time. This reflex will settle around four months of age as they start to control their sucking for feeding and self-soothing.

Tongue-thurst reflex

A newborn baby will thrust their tongue out of their mouth when something touches their lips. This is called the tongue-thrust reflex.

The tongue-thrust reflex helps babies to latch onto a breast or bottle for feeding. It also protects babies from choking by pushing food and objects out of the mouth.

This reflex will settle around six months of age, in time for solid food to be introduced.

Gag reflex

The muscles in a newborn baby's mouth and throat will get smaller, pushing food or objects out from the back of the mouth. This is called the gag reflex.

The gag reflex protects babies from choking on things that are too big for them or that they shouldn't eat. Gagging is different from choking and is a positive sign that your baby is learning to chew and swallow food.

This reflex will settle down around six months of age, but will remain into adulthood.

See Infant and baby nutrition for information on:

Babies can start to eat when they turn six months old, but not before four months old. From 6 to12 months, babies will slowly transition to solid foods as their primary source of nutrition.

Breastfeeding can continue alongside solid foods for babies aged 6 to12 months. Babies who continue breastfeeding from 12 months onwards will get around one-third of their energy requirements from breastmilk.

Formula-fed babies aged 6 to 12 months will need to switch to a stage 2 or follow-on formula to ensure they get the right nutrients. They will have this formula alongside solid foods. From 12 months onwards, babies can stop drinking formula and switch to cow's milk or water if they have enough dairy in their diet.

Stage 3 or toddler-type formulas and drinks are not essential unless recommended by your doctor or child and family health nurse. It is up to families to decide whether to use these products.

Importance of introducing solids around 6 months

At around six months of age, babies will need more energy and nutrients to support their healthy growth and development.

For example, babies are born with enough iron stores for the first six months before they need more iron in their diet.

These nutrient needs are higher than what they can get from breastmilk or formula alone and include:

  • iron
  • zinc
  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin D.

Breastfeeding and infant formula needs to continue until at least 12 months, alongside eating solid foods. This is called complementary feeding 

Starting a baby on solids too early or too late can impact their health and development.

Starting too early can:Starting too late can:
  • increase the risk of food allergies
  • lead to poor growth
  • expose the underdeveloped gut to germs 
  • increase the load on the kidneys
  • cause diarrhoea from food that cannot be digested properly
  • decrease parent's breastmilk supply. 
  • increase the risk of food allergies
  • slow growth and healthy weight gain
  • cause micronutrient deficiencies that can negatively impact the immune system, growth and development
  • delay the development of oral-motor skills like chewing.

Developmental readiness for solids around 6 months

Developmental changes will start around six months of age that help a baby learn to eat solid foods. 

Around six months, a baby's:

  • digestive system will produce enzymes that let them digest solid food properly
  • head and neck control gets better, letting them sit up safely and swallow foods easily
  • kidneys develop to handle the extra work of processing solid food
  • immune system becomes better at protecting them from germs and bacteria found in food
  • tongue-thrust reflex stops or slows, stopping food from being pushed back out of the mouth
  • tongue starts to move around more, letting food move safely to the back of the mouth to swallow.

Every baby develops differently and at their own pace.  

Look out for signs that your baby is ready to start solids around six months, including:

  • loss of their tongue-thrust reflex
  • sitting upright with or without support, with good control of the head
  • putting things in their mouth
  • showing interest in other people's food
  • opening their mouth when food is offered 
  • having more frequent feeds.

Considerations for introducing solids


Babies are at a greater risk of choking due to:

  • their smaller windpipe, about the width of a drinking straw
  • their lack of back teeth that are responsible for grinding and chewing food into smaller pieces.

Babies can accidentally choke on large pieces of food as they adjust to eating solids. Avoid giving them anything small, round or hard that could get stuck in their airway to lower the risk. Make sure always to supervise them while they're eating solid foods.

See Infant and baby nutrition for information on reducing the risk of choking.

Honey and raw or partially cooked eggs

Do not give honey, food items containing honey or raw/partially cooked eggs to infants under 12 months of age, as it can cause infant botulism. Infant botulism is a serious illness that causes paralysis. Children will develop their natural gut defences as they get older, protecting them from botulism.

Squeeze pouches

Squeeze pouches can be a handy way to feed babies at home or on the go. While convenient, there are some downsides to relying too much on squeeze pouches for feeding.

These can include:

  • limiting opportunities to develop oral-motor skills, such as chewing
  • affecting speech development
  • restricting sensory development and exploration from touching and smelling new foods
  • high levels of sugar and salt
  • an increased risk of tooth decay.

If families do choose to use squeeze pouches, they can reduce these risks by:

  • emptying the pouch contents into a bowl and letting baby explore with a safe spoon or fork
  • using a screw-on spoon attachment to help with feeding
  • limiting pouches to things like yoghurt for quick snacks on-the-go, rather than regular meals.

Most babies will have moved from purees to soft lumps and chewy food by seven months. This texture helps to develop oral-motor skills like chewing.

Avoid sugar and salt

Babies who eat a lot of sugar or salt can develop a taste for unhealthy foods, which can affect their eating habits and dental health in the future. Additionally, babies' kidneys are still developing and can only handle a small amount of salt safely.

Fluids from 6 months


After 6 months of age, boiled and cooled tap water can be gradually introduced to a baby's diet alongside breastmilk or infant formula.

Water must be boiled first to kill any germs and bacteria that a baby's immune system cannot yet fight. 

After boiling, cool the water in the fridge to prevent burns or scalds.

Cows milk

Babies younger than 12 months should not be given cow's milk as a drink or replacement for breast milk or infant formula. 

Introducing cow's milk before 12 months of age can lower iron stores and increase the risk of iron deficiency. Cow's milk can also cause digestive issues as the levels of protein and salt are too high for a baby's stomach and kidneys to process properly. 

It's best to wait until your baby is 12 months old before giving them cow's milk as a drink.

Fruit juice

Babies do not need water flavourings like cordial, or fruit juice in their diet. Fruit juice is not recommended for babies as it has high levels of sugar, which can harm their developing teeth and cause diarrhoea. Sugar and fruit juice can also make babies feel full and less interested in eating the nutritious solid foods they need for growth and development. 

Teach your baby to drink from a cup around 6 months of age

Babies should try to transition from a bottle to a cup at around 12 months. 

Using a bottle beyond 12 months puts babies at higher risk of:

  • iron deficiency
  • tooth decay
  • ear infections.

Introducing solids and skill development

Oral-motor skill development

Babies can learn how to chew even before they develop their teeth. Introducing solids that gradually go from soft puree to lumpier textures will help babies practice chewing, which will become easier and more efficient once their teeth arrive.

Getting used to different textures helps to develop oral-motor skills. This means they can:

  • bite and chew a wider range of textures, increasing their jaw stability and range of movements
  • accommodate new tastes, flavours, and textures by reducing their gag reflex
  • take food from a spoon and keep it in their mouth at around ten months old by improving their lip control
  • increase the range of motion of their tongue
  • be more accepting and adventurous with different foods.

Children learn to coordinate their lips, tongue, and jaw as they develop their oral-motor skills. This can help with speech development and self-feeding behaviours.

Communication and social development

Babies can develop communication and social skills during mealtimes by interacting with parents, carers, or siblings. 

They can communicate through:

  • crying
  • gestures
  • eye-contact
  • facial expressions
  • babbling
  • actions
  • words
  • playing with food.

Parents or carers can also enhance their child's development by making mealtimes more enjoyable. 

Some simple ways to do this include: 

  • encouraging interaction during mealtimes by asking questions, even if your child doesn't respond with words. 
  • giving your child enough time to explore their food. 
  • providing a supportive feeding environment where your child can see you 
  • not forcing your child to eat or clear their plate 
  • helping your child when they need it.

Sensory development

Babies learn through play and exploration. By touching and feeling their food, they are learning about the foods:

  • temperature, such as if it is hot or cold
  • texture
  • consistency
  • colour
  • shape
  • gravity.

Allow your baby time to explore their food. Although it may be messy, they will start to become more familiar with food and learn cause and effect, especially if they are throwing, dropping, or squishing food.

Fine motor skills

Babies learn by playing and exploring. They can learn a lot of information about their food by touching and feeling it, including:

  • temperature
  • texture
  • consistency
  • colour
  • shape
  • gravity. 

It may get messy, but giving babies time to explore their food is important for their development.

This will help them become more familiar with food and learn about cause and effect, particularly if they throw, drop, or squish their food while exploring.

Last updated Monday 6th May 2024