Growth & Development in Babies
Infants seem helpless at first, but within a fairly short time they undergo remarkable changes. In caring for a child's physical health during the first year (as well as thereafter), parents should be sure that the child has regular medical checkups. Your pediatrician or family physician will also monitor the baby's growth and development and advise you about caring for the newborn.
At home, you can ensure that your baby is provided good nutrition and good hygiene and also receives the emotional nurturing that is important to a child's well-being. Active engagement between an infant and his or her caregivers helps to establish a secure base from which the child can venture out in the years ahead to explore the world beyond the home.
Birth to three months. During the first week of life, it is not unusual for newborns to actually lose weight, shedding about 10 percent of their birth weight as they expel excess body fluids. By two weeks of age, though, the baby should attain or exceed her birth weight. Thereafter, newborns gain about two pounds a month up to the third month.
A common concern of many new parents is whether a baby is being properly fed. Keep in mind that, in addition to providing essential nutrition, feeding is an important component of the baby’s emotional development. Holding and cuddling the child during feeding reinforces the child’s sense of security and facilitates further development.
Child and parent also connect through a wide range of gestures. During the first month, a child starts to make eye-to-eye contact with an adult. One of the strongest stimuli for a baby is a parent’s smiling face. Babies as young as several weeks can recognize a smile, and they will quiet down when held and gently spoken to. At around two months they will begin to respond by smiling backone of the most delightful milestones of this age period.
Of course, newborns also cryand while hunger, a soiled diaper, or some other identifiable source of discomfort may be the cause, babies often cry for no apparent reason, testing parents’ patience and accounting for countless frantic calls to the doctor. Crying often peaks at around six weeks of age, when babies may cry for a total of three hours during the course of the day; by three months, crying often decreases to an hour or less. An exception is an infant with a medical condition, such as an earache, that provokes the crying, or an infant with colic. If your child cries for prolonged periods (three hours or longer) for no apparent reason and no amount of cajoling will appease her, see your doctor.
Your baby will also begin to establish predictable sleep patterns. Initially a newborn may sleep and awaken at seemingly random times throughout the day and night, but as the nervous system matures and the infant gradually adjusts to parents’ daily patterns, sleep periods gradually lengthen. By two months, infants may wake two or three times during the night. Some will sleep for six hours at a stretch.