Your Baby’s Third Month: Repetition and Novelty

What Do the Researchers Have to Say about Your Three-Month-Old?

When you hold yo ur three-month-old in your supportive arms, you may be so delighted that you begin to talk in motherese, the simplified and repetitive type of speech that uses exaggerated, generally somewhat high-pitched intonation and rhythm. By this age, your baby may respond to your words with coos—followed by your coos in response to hers.

In this new stage, your baby is able to spontaneously coordinate her expressions, gestures, and voice with your expressions, gestures, and voice, making you remarkably in synch with your baby. It can be a magical age, as you become even more connected to your baby in a very unique way (Gopnik, Meltzoff, Kuhl, 1999).

By three-months-old, your baby can also detect some cause and effect. For example, infants this age expect that the sound of a voice comes from the same direction as the visually seen location of the face (Stern, 1985, 82). They also realize that some of their own actions can influence others’ actions.

How do the researchers know this? They observe how babies do and do not understand the relation between actions and results. You can see an example by gently tying one end of a ribbon to your baby’s toe and the other end to his mobile making sure there is a little give in the ribbon. When he moves his foot, the mobile moves. He will probably repeat the act, having learned his ability to influence the event. Then, if you give him a chance to do the same thing a week later, he will remember instantly and start kicking.

However, if you disconnect the ribbon, the baby will continue to kick, not realizing the change that occurred. In other words, he makes false assumptions; he doesn’t realize that he needs the ribbon’s direct connection to the mobile to make it move. Try it and see for yourself. It’s so fascinating. You may even notice that your baby coos and smiles as well, as if that will make the mobile move.  Oh my, so much to learn!

While smiling and cooing always get a reaction from daddy, alas, the mobile doesn’t respond the same way with the father’s voice as it did with the tied ribbon. The mobile does not move.

This difference between objects and people is something that your three-month-old doesn’t understand particularly well just yet. Infants can’t discriminate between physical causality with objects, like when baby’s foot kicks pull the ribbon and move the mobile, and psychological causality with people, such as when a mother returns a smile or a coo (Gopnik, Meltzoff, Kuhl, 1999, 76). However, they can still detect the source of an action, where it comes from.

Another interesting study to keep in mind as you watch your three-month-old develop is that, according to Stern (1985), a baby at three months old can recognize the difference between self-initiated actions, as when they shake the mobile by kicking their foot, and actions that others initiate.

For example, maternal responses to their babies are much less predictable. For example, a baby can be 100 percent certain that vocalizing will bring a feeling in their chest that resonates. But, he can only be fairly certain that when he is making sounds it will result in his mother’s vocal response (Stern 1974b; Messer and Vietze 1982) (Stern, 1985, 81). A parent does not walk over and a return a coo every single time a baby vocalizes.

In other words, your baby may begin to rely on her own actions more than those of others—as self-initiated actions are the most reliable. However, you can try to be as reliable as possible for her as you respond to her development and growth in encouraging ways.

So, what are some ways you can effectively play with your three-month- old?

Infant Development


Each baby is different, so have fun seeing how your baby develops and grows as you play. Although his arms and legs will still be wobbly, your baby will likely develop some strength in his limbs as you practice sitting, standing, tummy time, and other games. You will also witness your baby’s neck strength improving as his head will wobble less and less when you hold him upright. You may even observe that your baby has enough upper-body strength to support his head and chest with his arms while lying on his stomach. He may even have enough lower-body strength to stretch those chubby legs and kick.

As you watch your baby, you should also see some early signs of hand-eye coordination. Your baby’s hands may open and shut, come together, swipe at colorful dangling toys, or briefly grab a toy or rattle.


There are also important developments occurring when it <i>isn’t</i> play time. Your three-month-old’s nervous system is maturing, and her stomach is accommodating more milk or formula. These changes should allow your baby to sleep for a stretch of six or seven hours at a time—which means a good night’s sleep for you.

If your baby does wake up in the middle of the night, wait about thirty seconds before heading into her room. Sometimes, babies will cry for a few seconds and then go back to sleep. It’s important to let your baby rest and learn how to fall back asleep on his own.

When the cries don’t stop and you do need to go into your baby’s room in the middle of the night, stick to the essentials. Feeding and changing should be done in the dark, if possible. Then put her right back into the crib. Eventually, she will get the idea that nighttime is for sleeping only, not playtime.

Playtime Suggestions

Respond to your baby’s babbling, laughing, and swatting with a lot of smiles and coos in return. (This shows baby you are reliable and predictable.)

Babies at this age love their hands and feet and can entertain themselves just playing with them. You can extend the play by giving your baby hand and foot rattles; she’ll enjoy making sounds for herself. This fosters motor development.

Gather various toys and other baby-safe household objects and then lie on your stomach in front of your baby—with your face a few feet from his—while he’s doing his tummy time. Have him reach for objects. He’ll begin to see how his actions cause results.

For a few minutes, simply walk your fingers up and down and back and forth in front of your baby. Make your fingers dance and skip as if they’re trying to catch her. Your baby might just watch happily, or she might reach out to grab your fingers.

When your baby is in a comfortable position, continue to give him blocks, rattles, soft balls, sturdy vinyl or cloth books, or any baby toys that won’t hurt him when he mouths them. Take an item away periodically based on his attentiveness and replace it with something new to explore. Remember, he likes repetition <i>and</i> novelty.

Continue showing your three-month-old items until she is a bit fussy or seems uninterested. At that time, lift her up to face you or sit her up in front of you with support behind her (since she probably won’t be able to support her head until she’s closer to four months). Then make different faces for her to imitate. You can imitate faces she makes at you as well.

Play peek-a-boo with your hands and engage her in conversation. This fosters her learning about objects that aren’t seen won’t disappear.

When conversing, <i>give your baby time to respond</i>. This will give her a chance to communicate.

Your baby will enjoy mimicking your sounds. So, make different sounds—remembering to leave gaps in your chatting so that she can react and reply.

Play music with a strong beat. While it’s playing, clap your baby’s hands or tap her feet against the floor in rhythm with the music.

Hold your baby as you dance around the room, singing and humming along with the music and encouraging her to babble along.

Enjoy carrying your baby around the house, the neighborhood, and the market. Stop every few minutes so that she can explore what’s nearby—and don’t forget to narrate everything as you go. For example, if you are carrying her around your apartment, say things like, “Look out the window. I see a truck. I see a squirrel.”

Gather some books with pictures to show him one at a time. He may look at the colors or mouth them. Remember cloth and vinyl books are best for baby to play and look at as they like to put everything in their mouth.

Three-month-old babies enjoy repetition in stories, rhymes, and lullabies. Simply sit quietly with her, listening to her coo along and letting her touch the pages of the book. This is also a wonderful way to help her wind down before a nap.

Remember to take life slowly with your baby. Don’t feel like you have to play with him every minute. He might become overstimulated and fuss, and at other times he might be happy doing nothing but watching you as you cook, use your computer, enjoy a cup of tea, and read to yourself.

Babies love eggbeaters, spoons, wire whisks, spatulas, books or magazines with pictures, empty bottles of shampoo or conditioner rinsed well with cap removed, colorful fabrics or clothes, fruits, and vegetables. Of course, always supervise your baby as they play with these and other objects or toys.

Go to your closet! Show your baby your soft sweater, cottony-soft favorite jeans, and brilliantly colored skirt. Run soft or silky fabrics over her face, hands, and feet. You can also lay fuzzy stuff down on the floor and put your baby on top of it.

Tie or tape some ribbon, fabric, or other interesting streamers onto a wooden spoon and dangle them gently over and in front of your baby’s face. Remember, never leave your baby alone with strings or ribbons that could go around his neck or get into his mouth.

Take a scarf and toss it in the air, letting it settle on your baby’s head.

Tie a toy to an elastic string (like the kind used for cat toys) and bounce it up and down in front of your baby’s face, saying “Boing! Boing!” every time it drops away.

Your baby may like absolutely anything you sing, but “The Wheels on the Bus” is a fun one with movements. (Forgot the words? Make them up or look online.) You can also try adding your baby’s name to songs or singing any songs with funny sounds or animal noises in them like “Old McDonald Had a Farm” or “Five Little Ducks.”

Try singing a song in a low growly voice and then in a high squeaky voice to see which gets the best response. Try singing the song breathily into your baby’s ear or use a hand puppet to sing to her (a sock works great, too!).

When you are in the kitchen trying to throw dinner together while your baby is upset, take your baby over to the spice rack and introduce him to the smell of cinnamon. Rub some on your hand and put it up to your baby’s nose. (Don’t let it get in his eyes or mouth.) If he likes it, try others: vanilla, peppermint, cumin, cloves, or nutmeg. Many other herbs and spices have wonderful aromas that your baby might love—and don’t forget about household fragrances like Daddy’s shaving lotion or Mommy’s hand cream.

Your baby will enjoy mouthing objects, and you should let her do so—it’s part of her exploration and development. Just be careful about what she gets her hands on.

Get physical if your baby likes it. He may like knee rides or tickle games.

Blow bubbles on the front porch or in the bathtub when your baby is fussy—or even at the park to attract older kids who will also entertain your baby!

Run your fingers up and down your baby’s belly.

Add some fun in the tub by aiming a squirt bottle at your baby’s toes.

When you find that your baby can hold her head up securely, hoist her into the air. Play like she’s a rocket ship, flying her over you and making realistic rocket noises. Make believe that your baby is an elevator, advancing up floor by floor and then down again, until you say, “Boo! You’ve made the trip!” (<hyperlink></hyperlink>)

A baby-safe unbreakable mirror can be fun for the three-month-old as well as a winning way to spend tummy time, which is otherwise something small babies often don’t like. Just place the mirror in front of your baby’s face so that he has to use his neck muscles to look at himself.

Any easy-to-grab, lightweight rattles, rings, and stuffed animals are a good idea. (<hyperlink></hyperlink>)

If your baby is able to lift her neck, then she may like being pulled by her little arms from an almost sitting to standing position.

What else should you keep in mind? Babies who are on the quiet side need your participation more than ever, so give them a bit more encouragement with your stimulation. If you catch on to a leap in development, grab the moment. That’s when your baby is really eager to learn.

Also, don’t forget to give your baby independent play—especially by ten weeks. This will allow you to both get a small break and encourage development. Simply put your baby on their back on a play cloth and watch him reach for hanging toys, swipe at them, or even swing them back and forth—amusing himself on his own

How exciting that your three-month-old’s sensory awareness is growing by leaps and bounds, as is your relationship with her! Stay in synch with novelty and repetition. She loves whatever you do and say and will watch intently and coo in response—so stay active while taking breaks whenever down time is needed for both of you.

An Illustration of a Mother and Three-Month-Old Baby at Play

Mommy: “Sweetie, we’re going to have some fun. I can help you fly. (lift baby) Oh, my. You’re like a rocket. Whoo! There you go flying.”

The baby smiles and giggles and wants you to do it again.

You repeat this action several times.

Mommy: “Oh, listen to you laugh! I’m laughing too. This is fun for both of us.”

An Example of an Infant-Parent Session

Let me tell you all about how sixteen-year-old Liv played with me with her four-month-old baby in infant-parent psychotherapy.

She chats to him smiling and he gazes at her and smiles back making little quiet sounds. I tell her about how researchers around the world think being a mother like her is so important that they have studied mothers and babies. I play with her baby just by talking in ‘motherese’ and he responds more actively, cooing loudly.

Dr. Hollman: “Liv you look excited.”

Liv: “He was so much louder with you. Why did you talk in that funny way instead of your usual voice with me?”

Dr. Hollman: “How great you noticed that. You can do it, too. It’s called, <i>motherese</i> which just means to talk in a high sing-song kind of way. Babies love that more than grown-up talk like you and I do. Do you want to try it?”

Liv immediately says in a higher singing type voice, “Hello my baby. Coo for me so much like with Dr. Hollman. Aren’t you cute putting your tongue out.”

The baby coos with excitement picking up Liv’s enthusiasm. They stick out tongues to each other. Liv is laughing and the baby smiles broadly imitating her.

<h2>What Does Liv Discover When Playing with Her Baby?

It’s wonderful to see how pleased both Liv and her baby are with this simple use of what she learned from research such as the use of motherese! Liv is quite proud to know she used research about babies, and it worked like magic!

How delightful it is to learn about research, development, and play with your three-month-old. Not only do your babies learn a lot, but as parents we do, too! Your baby now smiles and coos with you, grasps objects, and has some conversation. She is getting stronger and learning that her actions affect objects and people just as they affect her, too. Now we can look forward to even more socialization and mobility at four months!