Babies: An Overview

Smiling baby with father
In official terms, infancy is the first 12 months of life. A lot will happen in your baby’s first 12 months. Before you know it, your tiny, "helpless" newborn baby will be a person in her own right, able to move around and communicate. Most healthy, full-term newborn babies double their birth weight by four months and triple it by their first birthday. Keep in mind, though, that all babies grow at their own pace.

In terms of physical development, your baby will generally develop from the top down. The first thing to develop is head control and strengthening of the neck muscles. Later, your baby's hand coordination develops, which allows her to pull herself forward before learning how to crawl. Once she has better control of her lower body, your baby can use her hands and knees to crawl. All of this happens in preparation for learning to walk.

In order to make sure your baby is developing properly, you will need to bring her back to the doctor for a medical or "well-baby" visit at two weeks, four weeks, two months, four months, six months, and once between six and 12 months. During the well-baby visit, the doctor will check your baby’s overall health and measure her height, weight, and head circumference. The doctor will also administer any immunizations as necessary. Immunizations protect your baby against several serious, life-threatening infectious diseases.

In addition to taking your baby to well baby visits, there are many things that you will need to do to make sure that she is happy and well cared for. Routine care such as dressing, changing diapers, bathing, and taking care of your baby’s skin and nails remains important as she grows during the first few months of life.

In order to give your baby the best start in life, breastfeeding is highly recommended. Breastfeeding is nature’s best food for babies. It is also a great way for mothers and babies to bond. Formula is an acceptable alternative for babies whose mothers choose not to breastfeed or are unable to breastfeed because of medical considerations. As your baby gets older, you will be able to increase her dietary repertoire by introducing a variety of solid foods.

Sometimes, despite giving your baby the best of care, she can become ill with any variety of conditions. A change in your baby’s behaviour is often one of the first signs of a problem. Common health concerns include fever, febrile seizures, respiratory problems, earaches, sore throats, digestive problems, skin conditions, eye problems, and other illnesses. Serious conditions include failure to thrive and sudden infant death syndrome.

Babies are fascinating people in their own right, and it is interesting to find out why they do what they do. Crying, and your response to your baby’s crying, is the first shared language between baby and parent. However, throughout your baby’s first year, she will develop ways to communicate with you, other than crying. She will make great strides in her social, emotional, and cognitive development. She will charm you with her first smile, and gradually take on all the other emotions. She will start to imitate your actions and gestures, and use these gestures, along with your body language, to begin the process of learning language. She will eventually become a good problem solver.

As you may notice quite quickly, your baby has her own distinct personality. Her patterns of behaviour, and the ways in which she responds to daily events in her life, are called her temperament. She may be very active, or less active than other babies. She may react mildly to new situations, or she might have very intense reactions. She may be pleasant and happy most of the time, or fussy.

Your baby will seek out your company, especially when she is feeling ill, in pain, or upset. If you can read and accept your baby’s cues, respond consistently, and provide her with the comfort she needs, she will develop a secure sense of attachment with you.

Andrew James, MBChB, MBI, FRACP, FRCPC