Newborn Physical Development in Months 0 - 3

Mother holding a newborn baby

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The first 3 months of your newborn's physical development will pass by more quickly than you can imagine. During this time you will note changes in your infant's growth, appearance, motor abilities, and sensory development.

Growth Predictors

Curious about how big little Johnny will get in the early months? Concerned your baby is either bigger than or smaller than the average newborn? The truth is, rarely is there a cause for concern. There is a wide range of "normal" height and weight development. The size of your baby will be related to a few factors:

  • The size of the birth parents as newborns
  • How long the mother carried to term
  • Nutrition
  • The environment and culture of the birth parents

Height and Weight Milestones

A clear understanding of what doctors expect of newborn height and weight gain can save you needless worry about his overall growth. You can expect your pediatrician to check for the following growth milestones.

Milestones Age 0 to 3 Months

  • A 5 percent to 7 percent weight loss during the first week of life. Breastfed infants may lose as much as 10 percent of their birth weight but should be monitored closely by a doctor.
  • A return to birth weight at around the second week.
  • After that, a gain of about an ounce a day is normal.
  • At around 3 months, he can be expected to pack on a pound a month, give or take a few ounces while his height will increase by about 20 percent.

Physical Appearance of the Head

It's no secret that your newborn's head makes up the greatest portion of his body. His skull is somewhat flexible as compared to an adult's, and because of that, you will notice several soft spots, fontanelles on his head. The head may be slightly misshaped from molding during birth, but no need to worry. That conehead will eventually round out nicely.

Physical Features

Newborns have their share of quirks in physical appearance. Don't be concerned if you notice the following traits. They will subside as your baby ages.

  • Swollen eyes at birth
  • Flattened ears
  • A blister that forms on the lip from feeding
  • Body hair (particularly so for preterm infants)
  • Dry skin
  • Enlarged genitals
  • Smushed nose

Motor Skills

Think of your baby's motor skill development as a top-down process. He first masters movements of the head, then progresses to movements of the trunk, hands, and legs.

Until 8 weeks, his movements are largely out of his control. Involuntary movements are without intention, so don't think he's pushing you away during a feeding or grabbing at a toy.

It isn't until about 3 months that you may notice him gazing at his hands. He is starting to understand that those waving fists he sees aren't just another toy in his line of vision, but a part of his body. He may begin to shake a fist at your face or a toy that is nearby.

Taste and Smell Sensory Development

It may surprise you to know that your baby could smell and taste while still in the womb. Some research indicates that a mother's diet while pregnant and nursing can influence her baby's palate later in life.

You can use his sense of smell to your advantage at the time. He recognizes his mom's familiar smell and may find comfort in the odor that comes from a piece of her clothing during her absence.

Hearing Sensory Development

Likely you have noticed that your baby can hear when he startles at noises or by turns toward voices. Your baby could hear in utero, but at birth, his hearing is not as advanced as an adult's. His hearing will rapidly progress in the oncoming months. 

Sight Sensory Development

You've spent hours gazing into those beautiful, and most likely blue, eyes of your baby. Those peepers fluttered open shortly after birth, but, because of pressure in the womb, they will be swollen for several days. His eyesight is the least developed of his senses.

In the beginning, he can only focus on objects near to his face, no more than 15 inches away. His blurred vision has yet to master depth perception, and he shows a preference for bright, contrasting colors.

As far as the eye color, almost all babies show off blue eyes. It won't be until around 9 months of age that his eye color will be established.

Touch Sensory Development

Your infant's sense of touch is, perhaps, the most highly developed sense he has at birth. You might notice this as he craves skin-to-skin contact, soothes during swaddling, or responds to various touches (bouncing, rubbing, patting, etc).

There are studies suggesting that by appropriately responding to your infant's need for touch stimulation it can have a positive effect on his cognitive and social development. In light of that, it is important for you to discover the unique ways your infant responds positively to touch and capitalize on this sensory need.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for a premature baby: what parents need to know.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Your baby’s head.

  3. KidsHealth from Nemours. Looking at your newborn: what's normal.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Movement milestones: birth to 3 months.

  5. De Cosmi V, Scaglioni S, Agostoni C. Early Taste Experiences and Later Food Choices. Nutrients. 2017;9(2). doi:10.3390/nu9020107

  6. KidsHealth from Nemours. How Will I Know if My Child Has Trouble Hearing?.

  7. Babycentre Baby - the all-important first year. DK. 2010.

  8. Mammen MA, Moore GA, Scaramella LV, et al. Infant patterns of reactivity to tactile stimulation during parent-child interaction. Infant Behav Dev. 2016;44:121-32.  doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2016.06.004

By Jennifer White
Jennifer White has authored parenting books and has worked in childcare and education fields for over 15 years.