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Infancy Introduction

Child Development & Parenting: Infants (0-2)

This topic center covers parenting and child development of infant children (ages 0-2). For a complete review of the theories of child development upon which this article is based, please visit our Child and Adolescent Development topic center. For coverage of child development and parenting topics applicable to preschool children (early childhood aged 3 to 7 please visit our Early Childhood Parenting and Child Development topic center. For information on parenting and child development of middle childhood children (ages 8 to 11), please visit our Middle Childhood Parenting and Development center and Child Development Theory: Middle Childhood center. For information on parenting adolescents (ages 12-24), please visit our Adolescence Child Development and Parenting and Child Development Theory: Adolescence topic center.

 

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Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What physical development takes place in infants?

  • Physical development occurs in several important ways, including children growing in size and weight, but also becoming better able to move themselves around and to manipulate objects, and having senses that become more refined over time.
  • Babies can feel and respond to pain and touch from birth, and this is an important first connection between infants and caregivers.
  • Babies can hear at birth, and doctors can test infants for hearing problems right after birth. As infants grow, their mental ability to process and use information they hear improves.
  • Unlike their abilities to smell or hear, babies are not able to see as well as adults do. However by age 2-3 months they have the ability to see a full range of colors and can focus on objects just like adults.
  • Infants need to learn how to move and to use their bodies to perform various tasks, a process better known as motor development.
  • One way babies learn to use their bodies is by learning to achieve large physical tasks, or gross motor skills, such as crawling and walking.
  • Fine motor skills develop alongside gross motor skills. Beyond just learning how to use and manipulate their bodies in large movements, babies are learning how to use their hands and how to coordinate smaller movements with their senses, such as sight.
  • Babies grow at an amazing rate in the first months and years of life as they rapidly reproduce cells and grow in length and weight.
  • In the first 2 years, babies grow to almost half their adult height and can quadruple their birth weight, and their bodily proportions also change.

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What cognitive development takes place in infants?

  • Babies are not only growing physically during the first 2 years of life, but also cognitively (mentally).
  • Every day while they interact with and learn about their environment they are creating new connections and pathways between nerve cells both within their brains, and between their brains and bodies.
  • A major development during this period (usually around 8-12 months) is that of object permanence, the understanding that something still exists even if it can't be seen.
  • As infants' brains continue to develop, infants also develop the ability to communicate; to comprehend and produce spoken language.
  • Babies learn language by taking in information through their senses of hearing and sight as they learn to process the meanings behind those sights and sounds.
  • Babies' and young children's language development is strongly influenced by the language they hear spoken around them and to them.
  • Research has shown that young children are better able to learn multiple languages or languages other than their family's primary language because their growing brains enable them to learn a wide variety of meanings, words, and language structures.

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What emotional/social development takes place in infants?

  • Babies can feel interest, distress, disgust, and happiness from birth, and can communicate these through facial expressions and body posture.
  • Infants begin showing a spontaneous "social smile" around age 2 to 3 months, and begin to laugh spontaneously around age 4 months.
  • Between ages 2 and 6 months, infants express other feelings such as anger, sadness, surprise, and fear.
  • Between ages 5 and 6 months, babies begin to exhibit stranger anxiety where they do not like it when other people hold or play with them, and will show this discomfort visibly.
  • Around age 12 months, babies become aware of not only other peoples' expressions but also their actual emotional states, especially distress.
  • Between the ages of 13 and 18 months, separation anxiety may subside as object permanence develops, and they understand their caretaker isn't gone even when they can't see them.
  • By age 2, toddlers can show a wide range of emotions and are becoming better at regulating and coping with their emotions.
  • Another important aspect of emotional development, temperament, has to do with babies' general emotional and social state.
  • Temperament refers to babies' innate personality; the general pattern of how babies will react to and interact with their environment which is present from birth.
  • Closely related to infants' emotional development is their social development; it's through relationships with caregivers and other people that children learn how to apply and use their emotions, expressions, and emotional understanding.

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What sexuality and body awareness takes place in infants?

  • While many people believe that sexual development does not become an important issue until puberty and adolescence, children actually begin showing sexual behavior and interest in their sexual functioning from infancy.
  • Babies are continually exploring their own bodies in order to learn about them.
  • They want to understand what they look like and how parts work and this will include investigating their genitals or walking around naked.
  • Because such behavior is a normal and natural development of their sexual, gender, and personal identity, caregivers should avoid chastising young children or labeling these kinds of exploratory actions as "bad" or "dirty."
  • Instead, caregivers should set and enforce proper limits on such behavior, allowing toddlers and young children to explore themselves at home in private and discouraging them from doing these behaviors in public.
  • Distracting children, and guiding them towards more socially appropriate behavior are good ways to get children to refocus without shaming them in the process.

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How can I successfully parent my infant?

  • Coming home from the hospital for the first time with a tiny person who depends entirely on you for all his needs can be a daunting prospect and it's normal to feel a mixture of excitement, joy, and love along with some anxiety, fear, and a little trepidation.
  • It's important to support the baby\'s head and neck in order to stabilize the entire body, and holding infants securely also communicates unconditional love that helps to form the parent-child bond.
  • Parents and caregivers should facilitate movement and growth by giving babies safe environments to play and to explore on their own.
  • Infants need food and water to survive, to grow, and to thrive.
  • Babies take in nutrients and fluids, and their bodies break them down, keep what they need, and get rid of the waste products through urination and fecal elimination. Preparation is the key to smooth diaper changes for everyone involved.
  • Caregivers can help their baby learn how to sleep in more adult-like patterns and how to soothe themselves to sleep. While some babies easily adapt to more mature sleep cycles, other babies may take much more effort and patience to do so.
  • Babies need to be bathed regularly and there are different ways to wash babies, according to their age, motor abilities, and preferences.
  • Babies cry because they're hungry, tired, sick, hot, cold, in pain, bored, over stimulated, want affection, or are uncomfortable in some way and parents can often learn to differentiate their baby's cries.
  • At a normal well-baby visit, parents should expect doctors to measure and weigh the baby and to discuss the baby's feeding and elimination, sleep habits, growth, development, and general well-being.
  • Another important factor in maintaining infant health is building up their immune system, or their ability to fight off serious infections, through immunizations.
  • Common baby medical concerns include teething, colic, coughs and colds, fever, and diarrhea and vomiting
  • Babies need to be loved and nurtured from birth to create a trusting bond between them and the adults who care for them, and to help create trust and interest in the world at large, which enables them to grow and to learn.
  • Another way to help babies begin to learn social skills, stay safe, and begin to learn values and morals is to provide appropriate discipline from birth.
  • Caregivers need to provide their babies with a safe environment in which to live and to grow.

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How can I keep my infant safe?

  • Caregivers can help babies to safely explore their world by attending to and fixing aspects of babies' environments that may be dangerous for them.
  • Caregivers need to baby-proof not only a baby's primary home, but also the car that the baby will be transported in, and the community of other homes and environments that the baby may visit and explore.
  • Caregivers can ensure a good night's sleep for their babies and themselves by following these tips to create a safe sleeping space for infants and toddlers.
  • Caregivers can follow some simple guidelines to keep diaper changing safe.
  • With a few precautionary measures, the family kitchen can be the center of a rich and busy family life.
  • The bathroom can become a safe and pleasant place for bath time and other baby fun times if important precautions are observed.
  • There are several things that caregivers can do to reduce the possibility that their children will be harmed in a fire-related situation.
  • If a family is looking to bring a pet into the home (and no pet is presently in the home), they should consider waiting until their child is at least five years old.
  • Concerned parents can also think about ways to make car outings occur as safely as possible.
  • Backyard play areas and other segments of the home property need to be monitored and outfitted for safety.
  • A solid emergency plan should be developed for handling worst-case scenarios, should they ever come to pass.

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How can I stimulate my infant and enrich their life?

  • It is important to think about infant stimulation or enrichment (activities that arouse or stimulate your baby's sense of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell).
  • This stimulation can help foster physical, social, emotional, brain, and nervous system development.
  • You don't have to worry excessively about making sure your baby masters a rigid set of exercises or activities in the first months of life, but by being aware of the different areas of child development, you can help enrich your child's experiences and growth.
  • The foremost way you provide encouragement to children is through showing them love and nurturing.
  • Another way you can show your baby love and affection is through providing them with toys, songs and games as learning tools.
  • From birth, you can help your baby to develop physically by giving him or her activities that help build upper body and neck strength.
  • To help very young infants develop language and other cognitive skills, you can talk to your baby.
  • Between ages six to twelve months, you can continue to encourage physical growth and motor skill development through interactive games and activities.
  • For more social and emotional development, you can play light chasing and surprising games by crawling around the living room or other space.
  • Another way to help build sociability is to expose babies to new social situations.
  • By twelve months, toddlers are generally beginning to master walking on their own and caregivers can begin to build on that skill.
  • By 18-24 months, children often enjoy simple pretend play.

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News Articles

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  • Heath Tip; How to Introduce Your Child to Peanuts

    Peanuts, as with any food that's at high risk of triggering a dangerous allergy -- should be introduced slowly and methodically to rule out a possible reaction. More...

  • Health Tip: When to See a Doctor for Cradle Cap

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  • Zika Infection After Birth May Require Long-Term Follow-Up

    Babies who contract Zika virus early in infancy should have long-term monitoring, a new animal study suggests. More...

  • Rear-Facing Car Seats Protect Tots in Crashes From Behind: Study

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    • Baby Sitters, Relatives Often Unaware of SIDS Risk

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    • Reading With Your Toddler Boosts More Than Just Language Skills

      All those hours spent reading bedtime stories may pay off for you and your little ones beyond language and brain development: New research suggests it's also good for social and behavioral skills. More...

    • Health Tip: Treat Diarrhea in Young Babies

      Diarrhea in young babies should be taken seriously if it lasts for more than one day, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says. More...

    • New Moms Still Wary of Exposing Infants to Peanuts

      Though doctors recommend an early introduction to peanuts, many new moms prefer to delay giving them to their babies, researchers report. More...

    • Health Tip: Use a High Chair Safely

      A high chair is a staple in a baby's household, but it must be used safely. More...

    • Poison Prevention at Home

      Every day, more than 300 children are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for accidental poisoning, and two children die from it. More...

    • Genetic Heart Defects Rarely the Cause of SIDS, Research Shows

      eart diseases linked to genetic flaws cause far fewer sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) cases than once thought, a new study finds. More...

    • Vaccine Exposure in First 23 Months Has No Adverse Impact

      The estimated cumulative vaccine antigen exposure through age 23 months does not differ significantly for children with versus those without hospital visits for infectious diseases not targeted by vaccines from age 24 to 47 months, according to a study published in the March 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. More...

    • Mechanical Heart Valve Approved for Newborns

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the world's smallest mechanical heart valve, designed to be used in newborns and other younger infants with heart defects. More...

    • Mom's Immune System May Affect Baby's Brain

      If a pregnant woman's immune system is activated, it can affect her child's brain development, new research suggests. More...

    • Vaccines Don't Weaken Babies' Immune Systems: Study

      Another argument used by anti-vaccine groups bites the dust -- research shows no evidence that routine shots somehow dampen kids' immune systems. More...

    • Health Tip: Prevent Tooth Decay in Babies

      Parents and caregivers can pass cavity-causing bacteria to babies through saliva, by sharing foods and spoons. More...

    • Pointers for Easier Potty Training

      Are you frustrated with the way your toddler's toilet training is going? More...

    • Health Tip: Make Sure Babies Eat Right

      A baby's nutritional balance during the first 1,000 days of life is critical to lifelong mental health and development, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. More...

    • Gut Microbiota May Affect Vertical Transmission of Being Overweight

      The correlation between maternal pre-pregnancy overweight and childhood overweight at ages 1 and 3 years may be mediated by birth mode and infant gut microbiota, according to a study published online Feb. 19 in JAMA Pediatrics. More...

    • Health Tip: Protect Baby from Whooping Cough

      Vaccination is the best way to prevent whooping cough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. More...

    • Many Parents in the Dark on When Kids Should First See a Dentist

      American parents are less likely to seek early dental care for their children if they don't receive guidance from a doctor or dentist, a new national survey finds. More...

    • Stroke May Not Mean Language Loss for Newborns

      Strokes in babies may not have the same lasting effects as they do in adults, a new study suggests. More...

    • Cause of Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths Shifts in the U.S.

      From 1999 to 2015 there was a small reduction in the rate of sudden unexpected infant death, according to a study published online Feb. 12 in Pediatrics. More...

    • Babies Face Higher SIDS Risk in Certain States

      Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) claims the lives of some 3,500 babies in the United States each year, but its toll is far heavier in some states than others, health officials report. More...

    • NICU Family Integrated Care Ups Infant, Parent Outcomes

      For infants born at 33 weeks' gestation or earlier, Family Integrated Care in neonatal intensive care units is associated with improved infant and parent outcomes, according to a study published online Feb. 7 in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. More...

    • Babies With Normal Head Size Might Still Have Zika-Linked Brain Damage

      Fetal brain damage caused by the Zika virus can go undetected in pregnancy, and can occur even if a baby's head size is normal, research in monkeys suggests. More...

    • Zika Tied to Rise in U.S. Birth Defects: CDC

      There was a significant rise in Zika-related birth defects in areas of the United States with local transmission of the mosquito-borne virus, a new report shows. More...

    • Nutrients in Child's First 1,000 Days Key for Neurodevelopment

      The provision of adequate nutrients and healthy eating during a child's first 1,000 days is important for optimal neurodevelopment, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement published online Jan. 22 in Pediatrics. More...

    • Opioid Epidemic Also Taking Toll on Babies

      In yet another example of how far-reaching the fallout from America's opioid epidemic is, researchers report that babies exposed to these narcotics while in the womb run the risk of certain head and neck abnormalities. More...

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    • 16 Percent of Infants Receive Complementary Foods Too Early

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    • 2013 to 2015 Infant Mortality Rate Varied by State and Race

      The infant mortality rate varied by state, from 4.28 to 9.08 per 1,000 live births in Massachusetts and Mississippi, respectively, in 2013 through 2015, according to a January data brief published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. More...

    • Health Tip: Health Tip: Prepare Your Child for the Dentist

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      More than half the parents in the United States start feeding their babies solid foods before they're 6 months old -- the age now recommended by health experts, a new study indicates. More...

    • Health Tip: Ways to Bond With Baby

      Early encounters between parents and a newborn help the infant feel more secure. The time it takes to bond varies from a few hours to a few weeks. More...

    • The Sooner Kids Learn to Eat Healthy, the Better

      Exposing young children to a wide range of healthy foods when they're young can help instill good eating habits, researchers report. More...

    • Health Tip: Kids and Window Blinds

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    • Choosing Safe Toys for the Holidays

      When trying to choose the perfect toys for kids this holiday, consider the age of the child first, a leading pediatricians' group says. More...

    • Put Safety on Your Toy Shopping List

      As time gets tight for holiday gift-buying, you might have an urge to grab whatever's still on the shelf. But when it comes to toys, keep safety in mind, health experts say. More...

    • Zika Babies Facing Increasing Health Problems With Age

      Most children born with brain abnormalities caused by the Zika virus are facing severe health and developmental challenges at 2 years of age, a new study suggests. More...

    • Nearby Fracking Linked to Low Birth Weights

      Newborn babies face a greater risk of health problems if they live close to a "fracking" site, a new large-scale study contends. More...

    • Window Blinds: A Silent Killer in Your Home

      Decades after the danger was first recognized, young children are still being injured or even killed by the cords in window blinds. More...

    • Health Tip: Starting a Tooth Brushing Routine Early

      Tooth brushing should begin in infancy to instill lifelong habits and protect teeth throughout adulthood. More...

    • When a Preemie Goes Home, Dad Stresses Out

      When parents bring a premature baby home from the hospital, it's the dads who feel the most stress, a new study finds. More...

    • State Newborn Screening Policies Cut Infant Cardiac Deaths

      Implementation of state newborn screening policies for critical congenital heart disease is associated with a decrease in infant cardiac deaths, according to a study published in the Dec. 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. More...

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