The Intellectual Development of an Infant

Strangers may think your baby does little but feed, sleep and cry, but you can see how fast he learns from the moment he is born. He makes advances in language, memory, thinking and reasoning, reaching the high point of his first words as he reaches his first birthday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Brand New Baby

Your newborn doesn't understand symbols, so she can't use language to make sense of the world. Physical experiences dominate her intellectual development at first. She notices things that she feels internally, such as hunger and thirst, or that she is aware of through her sensory system. She can see, hear, smell, taste and touch and in her very first week or so, you notice that her hungry cry differs from her dirty diaper cry.

First Months

Mother holding baby girl's (6-9 months) legs, smiling

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In his first three weeks, your baby copies you if you push out your tongue, according to A. Meltzoff. By smiling, he shows that he recognizes your face and voice. He starts to vocalize with meaning, coos with contentment and turns toward familiar sounds. The low, continuous hum from your washing machine or dishwasher may soothe him.

Understanding Dawns

By six months old, your baby stops and listens when you say her name, able to distinguish it from other words. She may understand when you say “no.” When you talk to her, she makes sounds back at you. If she sees you hide a toy under a rug, she remembers and looks for it there, according to the National Network for Child Care.


Mother holding baby girl's (6-9 months) legs, smiling

The Social, Emotional & Physical Development of Infants

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From age six to 12 months, your baby loves to explore the world by banging toys together, putting objects in and out of containers and dropping toys on the floor. He appreciates the purpose of objects so uses a brush on his hair, drinks from a cup and offers pretend drinks to dolls and teddies. He recognizes pictures and their symbolic link to the real object.

First Words

Your infant plays with sounds in strings, such as, “ba-ba-ba” and “da-da,” between six and 12 months. She puts these babbling sounds together in sequences, varying her tone to mimic adult speech. She understands “all gone” and “bye bye,” and likes to wave or use simple gestures. She may even use one or two simple words with meaning by the end of her first year.

Expert Insight

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that your baby’s development timeline doesn't exactly mirror that of another child. It recommends contacting your health care provider if, at 12 months or so, your baby doesn't look for objects that he sees you hide; does not wave, shake his head or use other gestures; does not point to objects; and has no single words.