Infant Development: The First Year

Beyond birth

Following the initial excitement surrounding pregnancy, parents-to-be will begin to wonder about the arrival of their newborn baby. Parents will harbour typical concerns around normal development, caring for baby and how to ensure a happy and healthy life for baby.

All of these anxieties that parents may have at one time or another about their baby's life are a normal part of parenting. Baby's first year is a time of many incredible achievements and constant change, there will be triumphs and challenges and it would be odd for soon-to-be parents not to have many questions leading up to the arrival of their baby. When baby finally does arrive, the main focus will be health, bonding and normal development. It is important to remember that all babies are different, parenting choices vary and your baby is as unique, he or she will grow and develop in their own time.

Bonding with your new baby

Your bond with your baby may have started long ago in the womb, some parents feel that they already know their little one before they arrive, others take time to share the bonding experience, getting to know each other as the days and nights turn into weeks and months. This process is different for everyone and getting to know your baby while your baby gets to know you is a very special time for all concerned.

Your baby has a personality and temperament all of his or her own, they will react differently to new people, their surroundings and routine than another baby, many parents are surprised at how different a second or third baby is when compared to a sibling. The bonding process allows you to connect with your baby, to adjust to the new way of life and to get to know your baby.

Your baby will develop their own sense of routine initially. At times it can feel as though there is no structure to the day, nights come and go and it all feels like the days and nights are melting into one another. Your baby may be more alert or sleepier than other babies, they may sleep through the night from an early age or take longer to reach that milestone so it is important to accept your baby’s patterns, meeting their physical and emotional needs while they adjust to the outside world in their own time. Bonding involves your baby’s actions, your reactions and vice versa. Your baby will be more settled once they have worked out that you are there to meet their needs on a physical and emotional level, providing the safe and secure environment that they seek.

Normal development and healthy growth

Parents often worry about normal growth and development, comparing babies with others and raising concerns that their baby isn’t as far along as the next or perhaps the opposite is true and baby may be advancing far beyond the other babies in his or her age group. The first year of a baby’s life is filled with constant change, growth and achievement. Your baby will grow and develop faster in the first year than at any other time throughout their life.

All babies are individuals and will make their own achievements when they are ready to do so, this can be a challenging time for parents as it can seem like forever before baby rolls over, sits up, crawls or begins to walk. You should talk to your GP or Health Visitor if you have any concerns about your baby’s development. In most cases, they will be able to reassure you and provide some ideas as to how you can help and encourage your baby towards reaching their milestones and sometimes, if necessary, refer you for further support.

Parents want to know that their baby is growing and developing just like other babies of the same age. There are typical stages when most babies and toddlers achieve their growth milestones, such as starting to say their first words. If your baby has not started to walk by his or her first birthday, this is not something to be concerned about, some babies are closer to two before they find they are ready to walk confidently.

This is in no way a reflection of your baby’s abilities, it is simply their own stage of readiness. Baby may eventually end up reading earlier or running faster than other children, early stages of development as different for all babies as their own personalities, keep an eye on their progress and if you are concerned, speak to your health care providers.

There are some key developmental stages or milestones that your baby and eventually toddler will reach within the first year of life or not long after. We will consider the social, emotional, intellectual, physical and language skills.

Keep an eye out for these signs and if you’re particularly worried, seek help and advice from your health care providers as there are lots of ways to support your baby as they grow and develop. All of these are only the basic indicators and do not suggest that if your baby is not doing one thing or the other, that they are in any way delayed. Use your own instincts and seek out the advice of professionals if you have concerns.

Social and emotional development

✔ Does your baby cry when you leave the room?

✔ Does baby prefer certain people versus others?

✔ Shows preference for certain foods when weaning, spits out or refuses foods on occasion

✔ May become anxious or shy around strangers

✔ Recognises parent or carer’s voice

✔ Smiles at familiar faces

✔ Prefers the care and affection of the main carer

✔ Shows an interest in grasping objects and finger foods

✔ Laughs

✔ Imitates others when playing or interacting

Intellectual achievements

✔ Knows hidden objects are there even when not in view / looks for hidden objects

✔ Actively plays with different objects, shakes, holds, throws

✔ Starting to build or stack objects

✔ Can match an image to an objects name

Physical milestones

✔ Baby can roll over onto stomach / back

✔ Sits up on his or her own

✔ Is able to crawl or shuffle

✔ Transfers objects from one hand to the other

✔ Holds onto furniture while standing

✔ Starting to ‘cruise’ walk or attempting to walk

✔ Pulls him or herself up to standing from sitting

Language skills

✔ Mimics sounds

✔ Shows interest in speech, voices and sounds

✔ Babbles or coos / stating to use words / recognises words

✔ Responds to and uses gestures

✔ Saying “mama” and or “dada”

Caring for your infant through the first year

Parents naturally want to care for and bond with their baby and instincts play a big part in the care you provide, this is something that comes naturally for most parents - the urge to protect and care for their young. Your GP or Health Visitor is always on hand to support you with advice on caring for your baby and helping them to stay safe, grow and achieve. Below are some suggestions of things that you can do with your baby to help their development and to grow the bond that you have with your baby.

✔ Always follow the recommended advice for sleeping, feeding and general baby care safety advice. Your Health Visitor will provide you with the most current, research based information.

✔ Follow your own instincts when considering how your baby is acting or feeling. You know your baby best, if you feel they may be ill or not behaving as they usually do, contact your GP or Health Visitor for their advice.

✔ Spend time each day talking to your baby, you will soon find that you are constantly talking to baby about what you’re doing whether it is feeding, changing, doing house work or simply having a coo and a chat about life. Your baby will engage with you and seek out your voice and attention. By talking to your baby, you are reassuring him or her that you are there, they are not alone and their needs can be met as required.

✔ Enjoy your baby. It is no secret that being a parent of a baby under one is hard work. If you can find a way to relax at various points throughout the day, you will be better able to care for your baby and they will pick up on your own relaxed, fun and caring approach to their care.

Daily Routines

In the very early weeks you will be focusing on feeding, changing and sleeping. Your routine will develop as the days go by. Implementing a routine will, in time, teach your baby what to expect and when. A routine will help to encourage a sense of safety and security for baby. Try to establish a set process as the weeks go on, this will give baby the cues as to what comes next, whether it is day or night and what to expect. Feeding, bathing and putting your baby to bed all provide wonderful opportunities for you to bond with your baby and teach them about life outside the womb. They will soon start to recognise the familiar patterns emerging between feeding, sleeping, playing, being changed and going out for walks or to baby groups.

What about childcare?

If you are planning on returning to work or will require childcare in the first year of your baby’s life, Childcare.co.uk offers the ideal resource for parents and carer’s alike. A simple search will reveal many local options from Childminders to Nannies and Nurseries. By creating a profile for your family, childcare providers in your area will be able to search for you and you for them. Childcare.co.uk has taken the hassle out of searching for your ideal childcare solution, no more exorbitant agency fees and you have direct contact with those who offer the services you need.

Taking the decision to use childcare is not an easy one. You will want to ensure that your baby is in a safe and caring environment. Caring properly for children requires experience, skills, and training. There are many factors to consider when making your decision, you will want to make a list of criteria that meet your needs and also a list of detailed questions that you can ask your childcare provider so that you can establish whether or not you are a good fit.

Below are some suggestions for what you may want to consider when looking at childcare options:

✔ If your child is going to a childminder or nursery, plan a visit so that you can see how the other children play and interact before taking your own child along for a trial session

✔ Consider the environment, does it mirror the kind of environment you promote at home or is it the sort of environment that you could see your child happily settling into?

✔ Ratios: the staff child ration is dictated by OFSTED and should be adhered to at all times. The higher the staff to child ratio, the better the care should be.

✔ Activities offered: There should be a wide variety of activities on offer, outdoor play where possible and lots of indoor activities offered that are aimed at building on your child’s existing skills and creating new ones.

✔ Health and safety considerations: Do all the staff have basic Paediatric first aid skills? Is the environment safe and are there any obvious dangers or issues that concern you?

✔ Talk to other parents. You can get a good idea about the care on offer by speaking to other parents who have children already attending the setting. The same goes for hiring a Nanny. Check references and provide scenario based questions so that you can get a better idea of how the childcarer would react in various situation.

✔ Your gut reaction can tell you a lot. If you’re worried, talk about your concerns but if you can’t move past a particular concern, you may want to keep looking.

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