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Physical Development in Infancy

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Physical Development in Infancy

You might have heard one parent say to another, "Time goes so fast. Cherish every moment." From birth until the end of infancy, babies achieve new milestones in physical development every few months! Babies grow so quickly during the first year of life.

  • What is physical development in infancy?
  • What are the characteristics of physical development in infancy?
  • What are some examples of milestones in infant physical development?
  • Why is physical development in infancy important?

Definition of Physical Development in Infancy

Physical development in infancy is the growth and maturation of the body, brain, senses, and neural connections from birth through the first year of life. The term for the period of time right after birth is postnatal. For the mother, this period of time is called postpartum. Physical development happens at a rapid rate soon after a neonate is born.

A neonate is another term for a newborn baby or a baby that has left the womb.

Physical development involves everything happening inside a baby's body as they go from being a newborn to a 1-year-old. A baby's body lengthens, grows muscle, and puts on weight. The baby learns to use their body in new ways, like sitting up, grabbing toys, and crawling. Babies learn to voluntarily control their muscle movements, and their bodies build up the muscles needed to sit, stand, and eventually walk!

The brain and senses also change during the first year of life. The brain grows in size and builds new neural connections as a baby is exposed to language, colors, shapes, and music. A baby's senses improve drastically. At birth, a baby's vision is very limited, especially their distance vision. Newborn babies go from responding to life automatically and reflexively to purposefully directing their actions, sounds, and movements!

Physical Development in Infancy a mother holding her baby sitting near a basket of toys StudySmarterInfancy, pexels.com

Characteristics of Physical Development In Infancy

There are several important parts of physical development in infancy. These are reflexes, sense preferences, body growth, and brain growth.

Reflexes in Infancy

Newborn babies are born with many natural reflexes crucial for survival. These reflexes are sucking, rooting, swallowing, grasping, and startling. Think about it: a baby would not be able to survive outside of the womb without the ability to eat or consume nutrients.

Reflexes are involuntary movements of the body that are crucial for survival. Reflexes are controlled by the spinal cord rather than the brain, allowing for quick, immediate reactions.

Eating involves three reflexes that feel natural to a baby. Sucking is how a newborn is able to latch onto a breast or bottle after they are born, and it is a natural part of the feeding process. Rooting is how a baby searches for something to latch onto by turning the head towards food. The rooting reflex is triggered by stroking a baby's cheek. Swallowing is using throat muscles to ingest food. Sucking and rooting diminish over time, but babies learn to control their swallowing.

John is a newborn baby who is adjusting to breastfeeding very quickly. John uses rooting to search for food by turning his head when his cheek is touched. He latches onto a breast using his sucking reflex. Once the milk starts flowing into his mouth, his swallowing reflex is activated.

If you have ever been around a newborn baby, you might have noticed that the baby will automatically close their hand around your finger if you place your finger in their palm. This is the grasping reflex. Newborns are also born with the automatic reaction of startling if there is a loud noise. The baby may flail their arms and legs when they are startled. This is called the Moro reflex.

Mia's brother places a rattle in her hand when her parents bring her home from the hospital. Mia closes her hand around the rattle as soon as it touches the center of her palm. Mia has no idea that she is holding a rattle, but her big brother's face lights up.

Physical Development in Infancy an adult finger grasped by an infant's hand StudySmarterReflexes, pexels.com

Sense Preferences in Infancy

At birth, a baby's vision is very fuzzy. They can only see objects that are 8-10 inches away. This works great for being able to see a parent's face! The rest of a baby's vision is cloudy, but they typically begin to visually follow objects around 3 months old. Babies show a preference for looking at faces over other kinds of objects. By the end of the first year, babies should be able to recognize patterns and colors.

Even though a baby's vision is weak at first, hearing is strong from birth and remains the dominant sense throughout infancy. Infants prefer to listen to their mother's voice, smell her scent, and see her face. A newborn's diet consists of one thing: milk. That milk could be breastmilk, formula, or a combination of both. Infants have a taste preference for sweet or salty foods.

Body Growth in Infancy

Babies develop new motor skills every few months. Typically, they first learn to hold their head up, swing their arms toward objects, and begin to use their hands. Eventually, they can roll over, grab toys, pull up on furniture, and crawl around on the floor. Once babies have enough muscle to hold up their entire body, balance well on their feet, and feel confident exploring, they are ready to begin walking!

While babies are learning new motor skills, their body proportions are growing and changing every day. Weight gain is the main change, but the musculoskeletal system grows and changes as well. At birth, neonates still have a lot of cartilage (soft tissue) instead of bone. Over time those soft tissues are replaced with hard bone that can support a baby's new physical abilities.

Brain Growth in Infancy

How is all this growth and learning taking place? We can attribute a baby's development to neural growth in the brain. On average, the brain of a newborn baby doubles in size during the first year of life. The brain grows in size through neural plasticity: the strengthening and growth of neural connections. The brain literally changes in structure and functions as a person learns through experiences.

Examples of Milestones in Infant Physical Development

Reflexes, motor skills, and body growth should be occurring at a rapid rate throughout infancy. Clinicians and researchers set up developmental guidelines to help parents know if their child needs extra help. These guidelines are called developmental milestones.

Keep in mind that every baby develops at a different rate. Each baby may meet the developmental milestones a little differently and at different times. This is okay! It is normal for each of us to develop in our own unique ways. Opportunities for exploration and a safe, nurturing home environment help support physical development in infancy.

A milestone is something you do or a newly learned skill that creates a significant change in physical development or growth.

AgePhysical Milestones
0-2 monthsReflexes: sucking, rooting, swallowing, grasping, and startlingHolds head up when on stomachMoves arms and legsLooks directly at faces
2-4 months Holds head steadyHolds a toySwings arms at toysPuts hands in mouthPushes up onto elbows/armsLooks at own handsFollows movement with eyesTurns head toward sounds
4-6 monthsRolls over in one direction (stomach to back)Pushes up on arms from stomachLeans on hands while sittingReaches and grabs toysMoves objects into mouth Looks at self in a mirror
6-9 monthsSits up without helpMoves objects from hand to handGoes from laying down to sitting up Uses fingers to move objects closer
9-12 monthsPulls up and stands with supportTakes steps while holding onSlurps from a cupGrabs objects with thumb and fingerPuts objects in containersWaves and claps

Harriet is 5 months old and can roll onto her back when she is laying on her stomach. She has been pushing up on the floor, grabbing at toys, and putting everything into her mouth. She can only rollover in one direction: stomach to back. She can only sit up by supporting herself with her hands, and she falls over really easily.

Physical Development in Infancy a baby laying on a play mat holding a toy while putting it in their mouth StudySmarterMilestones, pexels.com

Importance of Physical Development in Infancy

Physical development in infancy results in critical motor skills, strong bones, and important motor development. Babies are incredibly curious and like to explore. Their motor skills help them move around and learn more about the world! In fact, babies that spend time around older children may try to do things the bigger children are doing. Babies are always learning through observing and interacting.

What happens if an infant misses an important milestone, like sitting up, crawling, or grabbing objects? Medical issues or developmental delays can cause issues in achieving milestones. In some cases, brain injuries, neurological issues, or motor nerve injuries impact an infant's ability to thrive.

Jenna is a first-time mom and notices that her baby remains completely still when there is a loud noise. Jenna knows from being around other babies that they usually startle when there is a loud noise. Jenna talks with her pediatrician, and the doctor orders a Moro reflex test to check the baby's development.

Milestones stick with an infant through the rest of life. Generally, humans only learn to walk once, and they never forget how after that. After infancy, things like sitting up, standing, and walking become automatic. We do them without even thinking about it. An infant's reflexes go away over time (like startling or rooting), and babies learn to control other things like swallowing.

Physical Development in Infancy - Key takeaways

  • Physical development in infancy is the growth and maturation of the body, brain, senses, and neural connections from birth through the first year of life.
  • Characteristics of physical development in infancy include reflexes, sense preferences, body growth, and brain growth.
  • A milestone is something you do or a newly learned skill that creates a significant change in physical development or growth.
  • Each baby may meet the developmental milestones a little differently and at different times.
  • Medical issues or developmental delays can cause issues in achieving milestones.

Frequently Asked Questions about Physical Development in Infancy

The stages of infant development are divided by month: 0-2, 2-4, 4-6, 6-9, and 9-12 months.

Physical development in infancy is the growth and maturation of the body, brain, senses, and neural connections during the first two years of life.  

Nature and nurture affect physical development in infancy through genetics, attachment behaviors, stimulation, and provision of basic necessities.

Factors that affect physical development in infancy include genetics, adequate nutrition, stability, comfort, warmth, and stimulation.

Some examples of physical development in infancy and early childhood include an infant learning to take their first steps, an infant holding onto a couch to stand up, and an infant gaining weight and muscle.

Final Physical Development in Infancy Quiz

Question

________  in infancy focuses on the growth and development of a child, naturally, over time.

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Physical development

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In most cases, physical development is considered a genetic force that is predetermined and inherited, called _______.

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maturation

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When someone is influenced by _____, aspects of them are pre-determined by genetics.

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nature

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When someone is influenced by ______, psychologists believe that they are influenced by their environment and what they've learned.

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nurture

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Physical development in Psychology is generally agreed upon as an influence of ______.


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nature

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How long is the infancy stage?

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From birth until one year old

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What is the Cephalocaudal rule?

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That the body physically develops from the head downwards.

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Newborn babies are born with?

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reflexes

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_______ is how a newborn is able to latch onto a breast when they are born, it is a natural part of the feeding process.

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sucking

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________ happens when a baby turns its head, typically to feed, but this can be cued by touching a baby's cheek.

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rooting

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________ is when a baby is able to use their throat muscles to consume the milk.

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swallowing

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When babies close their hands around someones finger or an object when it is placed into the palm of their hands... this is known as?

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grasping

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True/False: Infants become startled as soon as birth.

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True

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By ___ months of age at the latest, a baby should be able to fully raise their head without any support or assistance.

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6

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By ____ months of age, a baby should be able to sit upright.

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9

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True or False: The term for the period of time right after birth is postnatal.  

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True 

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For mothers, what is the term used to describe the period of time after birth? 

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Postpartum 

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True or False: A neonate is another term for a newborn baby or a baby that has left the womb. 

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True 

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True or False: Reflexes are controlled by the spinal cord rather than the brain, allowing for quick, immediate reactions. 

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True 

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True or False: The rooting reflex is triggered by stroking a baby's cheek. 

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True 

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True or False: Sucking and rooting diminish over time, but babies learn to control their swallowing. 

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Answer

True 

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Fill in the blank: At birth, a baby's vision is very fuzzy. They can only see objects that are ___ to ___ inches away.  

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Answer

8 to 10 

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True or False: Babies show a preference for looking at faces over other kinds of objects.  

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Answer

True 

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Question

True or False: Even though a baby's vision is weak at first, hearing is strong from birth and remains the dominant sense throughout infancy.  

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Answer

True 

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Question

True or False: A newborn's diet consists of one thing: milk. 

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Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: At birth, neonates still have a lot of cartilage (soft tissue) instead of bone. 

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Answer

True 

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Question

At what age, in months, can the baby hold their head up when they are on their stomach? 

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0-2 months

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At what age, in months, can the baby turn their head towards sound/noise? 

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2-4 months 

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At what age, in months, can the baby roll over in one direction (stomach to back)? 

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4-6 months

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At what age, in months, can the baby sit up without help? 

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6-9 months

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At what age, in months, can the baby wave and clap? 

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9-12 months

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True or False: A milestone is something you do or a newly learned skill that creates a significant change in physical development or growth. 

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Answer

True 

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Question

True or False: Medical issues or developmental delays can cause issues in achieving milestones. 

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Answer

True

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