1. Education

Development in the First Year

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Infant development
Image: Justyna Furmanczyk

The very first year of a child's life is a period of amazing growth and change. Babies immediately begin taking information about the world through their sense of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. Observers of this process are often amazed to watch as an infant make rapid advances, learning to reach, grasp, smile, laugh, sit-up, crawl, and walk over such a short period of time. During this year, many influences are working together to help influence how the child will grow. Parenting, nutrition, bonding, play, and biology are just a few of the myriad factors that will help shape a child's first year of life.

The Growing Baby

Tracking physical growth during the first year of life is an important way of monitoring the developing child's health. Because physical growth occurs so quickly during the first year, most doctors suggest getting monthly checkups. This allows medical professionals to determine if a child's growth is on track as well as to spot potential signs of trouble. A standard monthly checkup usually involves weighing and measuring the infant to ensure that they are gaining weight and growing normally. Parents are also advised to keep an eye out for physical developmental milestones to ensure that their children are achieving certain skills and abilities by a particular age.

During the first three months of a baby's life, he or she will grow in length approximately 20 percent and increase in weight by about 30 percent. The child will also learn to recognize the caregiver's scent, become more aware of her own hands, and respond to touches that she finds soothing. Between the ages of three to six months, physical development kicks into high gear. In addition to doubling their weight at birth, most children learn to roll from back to front, sit up with support, pass toys from one hand to the other, make babbling noises, and follow object with the eyes.

From six to nine months, parents start to notice major increases in their infant's eyesight, hearing, and mobility. Children can sit up unsupported, reach for toys in front of them, and even crawl at this age. As their dexterity improves, so does their ability to grasp and play with toys. At this point in development, a child's vision is almost as clear as that of an adult. Parents will also notice that their kids begin to exhibit definite taste preferences, showing their enjoyment of certain foods while expressing displeasure with foods they do not like. In the last three months of the first year, children weigh about three times more than they did at birth and have grown about 10 inches in length. Many kids will learn to stand up without assistance and begin taking their first steps around the house, often aided by adults or by grasping on to nearby furniture.

Modern Advances in Child Development

Today, normal infant growth is largely taken for granted, but just a century ago as many as 35 percent of all newborns died before reaching the age of seven. During that time, infectious diseases such as whooping cough, measles, smallpox, and polio posed a very real threat to the developing child, placing them in danger of neurological complications, physical problems, and even death. Increased awareness about the risks of illnesses, improved nutrition, and better sanitation have all contributed to the increases in child mortality over the past 100 years.

Immunizations, however, are the single greatest reason behind today's improved child survival. An immunization involves giving the child a substance that stimulates the body's defense system again specific infectious diseases. When you think of immunizations, you probably think of the injections most children receive as infants and before starting school. However, immunizations can actually be administered in a number of ways. In addition to injections, inhalation (breathing in the substance through the nose) and ingestion (eating a substance that contains an oral vaccine) are also fairly common methods of administering immunizations. In some cases, children may actually catch an illness, such as the chicken pox, that then causes them to be immune in the future.

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