Infants (One to Twelve Months of Age)

Beatriz R. from Mexico is an au pair in New Jersey, USA.
Beatriz R. from Mexico is an au pair in New Jersey, USA.
Photo courtesy of InterExchange

As an au pair, you may not be caring for infants during your program. Nonetheless, it is a good idea to learn about child development from the beginning.

Physical Needs and Development

  • Infants like to feel safe.
  • Infants like to be physically comfortable.
  • Infants like to explore their bodies.
  • Infants like to be held and cuddled.
  • Infants like a clean diaper.
  • Infants like to put things in their mouths.
  • Infants like to explore objects.
  • Infants like soft toys and toys that make noise.
  • Infants like mirrors.

If you do interact with or care for the baby in the family, make sure their environment is safe for their exploration - keep them from rolling off a high surface or playing with dangerous toys. As babies begin to be increasingly mobile, the home needs to be “babyproof” so that the baby cannot hurt herself. The following tips are good advice for baby care:

  • Never ever shake or be rough with a baby - their bodies are very fragile, and it is too easy to injure an infant.
  • Change diapers frequently to avoid diaper rash. 
  • Feed babies when they are hungry, or on a schedule established by your host parents. Hungry babies get fussy. 
  • Remember the one-hand rule: If the baby is lying on an elevated surface, such as a sofa or changing table, keep one hand on her at all times. Do not leave her unattended.
  • When holding the baby, be sure to support the head, because a baby’s neck is very weak.
  • When feeding a baby, check the milk or formula by putting a few drops on the inside of your wrist to make sure it is the right temperature. Hold the baby up as you feed her, so that the food may go down to the stomach easily.
  • Have a towel or extra diaper available when you burp the baby after feeding: babies spit up!

Provide a quiet environment for a sleeping baby. Talk to your host family about how they want the baby put to sleep. Most families put the baby to sleep on her back. This reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or crib death. Babies who sleep on their backs need extra time on their stomachs when they are awake. This will help them to develop normally and learn to crawl.

Some babies develop colic - this is a digestive problem that usually affects the baby late in the afternoon or early in the evening. Colic is not harmful to the baby, but it does hurt. Colicky babies scream and cry almost uncontrollably, sometimes for several hours. Unfortunately, there is no cure for colic, but you can try to comfort the baby during this difficult part of the day. Sometimes, changing the baby’s formula can help, or the pediatrician may prescribe medication for the discomfort. Luckily, colic normally lasts no more than several weeks before the baby grows out of it. Of course, you should tell your host parents about any serious crying problems or fussiness, especially if you are not sure why the baby is upset.  

Around the age of four to six months, babies will begin to grow, or “cut”, their first teeth. The first teeth grow into the front of the mouth, and usually only cause irritated gums and drooling. When most children are about a year old, their first molars begin to emerge, and the second molars arrive in the second year of life. Molars are the large teeth in the back of the mouth, and cause more pain and discomfort as they break through the gums. You can relieve the baby’s discomfort by giving them something cold to suck on, like a chilled teething ring.

Social Needs and Development

  • Infants like to spend time with other people.
  • Infants like to be talked to.
  • Infants like to be smiled at - and smile back.
  • Infants like to watch other people.
  • Infants like to be sung to. 

Respond quickly to a crying baby; babies cry to tell us that they need something. Don’t worry about giving a baby too much attention or spoiling her.  It is not possible to spoil a baby. Tending to a baby when she cries helps to develop her sense of trust. When she is awake, let the baby socialize with adults and family members. Talk to her about everything you do together. Make up songs. You don’t need to use silly language or baby talk - babies respond to normal speaking and begin to learn language by listening to adult caretakers.

Babies and Play

Even the youngest babies are constantly learning and exploring their world. They use their senses and their bodies to learn about their environment. Infants learn by collecting information from their experiences. For example, babies put many things in their mouths because they learn by tasting and feeling the object. This tendency to put things in the mouth means that you have to be extra careful about what the baby can touch and reach - if you don’t want her to put your wristwatch in her mouth, don’t let her get her hands on it! Be vigilant. Older babies enjoy playing with soft, colorful toys they can hold in their hands. Babies don’t need a lot of toys, however; everyday objects, such as large plastic spoons or scarves, are wonderful to play with.

Emotional Needs and Development

  • Infants like to be comforted when they are upset. 
  • Infants like to please you.
  • Infants like a swift response to their crying.
  • Infants like consistency.

At about seven months of age, most babies may show distress when left with someone other than a parent or familiar caregiver. The baby may cry intensely. So, if you are new in the baby’s life, don’t worry if she doesn’t like you right away. She will soon grow to enjoy your care, and will strongly prefer you to strangers. Ask your host family about the best way to calm the baby - different babies like different things: some enjoy rocking, and some like singing. Whenever in doubt, talk to your host family about how you should interact with the infant.

Next: Toddlers (1-3 Years of Age) »

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