Newborns experience rapid growth and development starting as early as ten days after birth. That lays the fundamental structure for their future well-being and quality of life. Medical reports indicate that babies gain 1 ounce daily two weeks after birth, only if properly fed. However, there is more to babies’ growth than nutrition. Several factors influence physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth. As parents or primary caregivers, you will provide, nurture, and oversee these crucial changes over the weeks, months, and early years of your baby’s growth. Here are some factors influencing their growth.
Healthcare and immunizations
Developing immune systems are vulnerable to infections and diseases, explaining the reason behind immunizations. Thankfully, regular appointments with the pediatrician inform parents about the vaccination schedule for their babies. Preventing life-threatening diseases is the reason for these immunizations. Five decades ago, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus were rampant in the United States. In 1979, however, polio was eliminated in the US, alongside other feared childhood diseases. Although there have been scanty cases of re-emergence among the unvaccinated, the country can be proud to have sustained eradication for several decades. Unfortunately, 2023 is recording a new situation altogether. A January CNN report discovered a decreasing rate of childhood immunizations, sparking nationwide concerns about the development. The risk of a widespread outbreak of previously eradicated childhood diseases is high if vaccination numbers drop. That can stop if more parents like yourself make informed decisions to protect babies from something completely preventable. Your baby’s physical health and development depend on your stance on immunization. Recommended vaccines must be taken on schedule to reduce your child’s risks of exposure to causative microorganisms responsible for these life-threatening diseases. It is easy to think that immunizations safeguard your baby’s physical health, but there is more to it.
It’s also worth noting that vaccinations can also help protect your baby’s mental, emotional, and social health in the future. That is because research reveals that adolescents and adults with paralytic polio report feeling societal stigma, consequently affecting their psychological health. Your decision today can save your baby from these avoidable situations.
Stimulation and play
Playing is for physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development. The exciting part is it begins early in life, and your newborn will prove that to you very soon. The cooing, rapid movement of limbs, smiling after establishing eye contact, and grasping a toy are all examples of your baby’s early play. The American Academy of Pediatrics states these are healthy signs of gross motor capabilities and social and problem-solving skills. However, the society believes there is more to them. These baby activities are considered simulation exercises for play. In other words, your baby’s body is simply gearing up for intense play. You should stimulate your baby when they begin to show signs of this. You can start this by getting your child age-appropriate toys that stimulate creativity and curiosity. For example, get your baby building blocks when they are eight to eleven months old and sit unassisted. This type of play improves hand-eye coordination, a crucial aspect of growth and development.
Another way to stimulate your baby is by reading to them. They may not understand the words from the beginning, but their developing brains record the pronunciation of words, inflection, tone, and so much more. These activities stimulate and foster early language development in your baby. Remember to vary these play experiences to help your little one stay engaged and interested whenever you initiate play. Before you know it, they will initiate play and expect you or a familiar face to respond.
Proper nutrition is a significant factor in a newborn’s development. Feeding them a regular balanced diet helps support their developing brains and bodies. The question, however, is how to ensure that what you feed your baby has all the essential nutrients to support growth. Over the years, breast milk has been considered the gold standard because it does more than satiate a newborn’s hunger and thirst. This crucial liquid food contains antibodies to build your baby’s resistance against infections. It is proven by WHO research, which states that infant gastrointestinal infections can be reduced by as much as 64%. The only condition is if the baby is exclusively breastfed. Bottle-fed babies are not left out because formulas are produced to mimic natural milk. Therefore, many formulas contain antibodies and all essential nutrients to support your infant’s growth. Eventually, your baby has to be weaned to give way to semi-solid foods and more ‘grown-up’ meals. Ideally, this should begin six months after your baby has lived solely on milk. Believe it or not, your baby’s body is on a growth timer, and everything you feed them at every stage influences development. You will notice baby growth spurts at some point, which is normal.
There are certain things to know about the timing of solid food introduction. A delayed or too early introduction can negatively impact your baby’s nutritional needs. That is because delayed introduction increases the risk of your baby missing out on crucial nutrients that milk alone cannot provide after six months of birth. In another breath, introducing semi-solids too early can upset developing tummies because the tract is not ready to process anything apart from breastmilk or formula.
This stage is crucial to your child’s development, but it’s often not given much significance. The bond between infants and their primary caregivers builds trust and provides safety and security. When that is established, these little ones feel more confident when a trusted parent or primary caregiver is around. Parental attachment is the reason for separation anxiety among many children. Fortunately, that doesn’t last long when children begin to understand the early concept of time. That is not to say they learn to read the clock before turning a year old. Rather, they know you will return after a while when you increasingly leave them for a few hours in trusted hands. That is when you will notice reduced incidents of separation anxiety in your child. First, leave your child in a secure crib or a safe playroom when they’re wide awake. However, do not be out of earshot, but ensure to show up every few minutes and let your child see you each time you appear. Do not try this on a hungry infant. This is a technique that builds their independence and reduces excessive separation anxiety.
How does parental attachment influence infant-toddler development? First, it helps build better social and emotional development. That is significant in their future ability to form healthy attachments. It may help stop your child from acting too clingy and feel neglected or unloved. Parental attachment is a healthy bond that fosters meaningful relationships, but you must work on it.
Every human needs sleep to feel better, but there is more to it than you probably know. Sleep is a period of cell renewal, repairs, rejuvenation, and, more importantly, growth. It is vital for complex brain processes, so there’s no denying sleep’s significant role in everyday life. In babies, the reason is the same, but there is more. Adequately rested babies are more attentive, have better memory, and are generally calmer. According to the Nested Bean website, a baby’s brain development doubles during sleep. It reported that developing babies in the womb are asleep 95% of the time and responsible for the immense growth occurring in utero. That couldn’t be far from the truth, considering babies need more sleep outside the womb to continue their rapid development. Unsurprisingly, newborns sleep 12 – 16 hours in 24 hours, with each sleep cycle lasting 30 minutes to an hour. Although this reduces marginally when they become toddlers, those increased sleep hours are more than the eight hours an adult requires. According to science, an essential fat layer called myelin forms in babies only during sleep. This fat layer forms around nerve fibers and connects the left and right brain hemispheres.
A safe environment
This factor is external, but still critical in infant development. Many parents do not wish to cause harm to their growing babies, but sometimes accidents happen. Standfordchildren.org says many emergency cases involving children under two years occurred at home. Falls, burns, drowning, electrocution, and choking are a few of the many cases rushed to the emergency unit. If not fatal, these injuries usually have long-lasting effects on a growing child. What can you do to avoid adding to the statistics? It all boils down to preventive measures and being proactive in your immediate environment. Using appropriate safety equipment can prevent accidents and injuries among mobile infants and toddlers. Remember to never leave a mobile child unattended for too long. If you must be in different parts of the house at any time, ensure an active camera and sound device are available to monitor your child in real time. Many of these devices can be connected to your smartphone, helping you act promptly if anything untoward is about to happen.
Lastly, genetics also play a critical role in infant-toddler development. Babies inherit genes from each biological parent, influencing physical growth and development. You have no direct control over these things, but with the others, you do.