During his first year your baby goes through some amazing changes. Read on to find out more about him than you ever imagined.
During their first year of life, babies adapt from pre-programmed, helpless individuals, surviving mainly on reflexes and instincts, to independent little people with a personality all of their own.
The soft spots on your newborn’s head are completely normal. They are called fontanelles and will both grow closed over time. Be gentle with them though.
Growing, growing, gone
During your baby’s first year, there will be an explosion of development in some areas (synapses in the brain) but also the breakdown of cells (like red blood cells and also unused brain cells) which is called pruning and helps make the brain more efficient.
There will also be remarkable growth – your baby will triple his birth weight by one and grow about three centimeters in length every month! Organs that were “oversized” at birth, such as the liver, head and genitals, don’t grow much during the first year. That helps your baby to become more proportioned in size.
Read: Smart start
Unlike four-footed animals that must stand and run within the first hour after birth, human babies develop from the brain downwards and only start walking after one year. At birth, your baby’s brain is too big for his body and, according to studies conducted by Dr Jay Giedd from the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland, USA, contains most of the neurons his brain will ever have.
“Humans achieve their maximum braincell density between the third and sixth month of gestation. During the final months before birth, our brains undergo a dramatic pruning in which unnecessary brain cells are eliminated,” he says.
Slowly getting stronger
Systems you’re largely unaware of, such as your baby’s immune, digestive and hormonal systems, work tirelessly to establish themselves, growing stronger and more efficient while helping your baby to become more independent.
For instance, regarding immune systems, Susan Prescott at the University of Western Australia says, “Microbial exposure in early life appears to be important for the development of many cell populations that produce cytokines or immunity cells.” (But you don’t have to cover your baby in dirt to ensure microbial exposure, she is exposed just by living outside the womb!)
Linda Palmer from the Attachment Parenting website www.attachmentparenting.org advocates plenty of contact for your baby. She says, “Persistent, regular body contact elevates the levels of oxytocin in the infant that in turn provides a valuable reduction in the infant’s stress hormone.”
Your baby’s senses, so strong at birth, along with bonding hormones that act as opioids or pleasure hormones, gives your baby a sense of security and attachment during breastfeeding, cuddling and even bathing and nappy changing.
This comfort zone can be disturbed when the baby realises that he is a separate entity from his mother, usually from about six months onwards. Cue separation anxiety! This gradually diminishes by the time the baby learns to walk and communicate verbally.
As your baby approaches his first birthday, he has learned a foreign language, taught himself to sit, crawl, stand, balance and walk by trial and error. He has learned the meaning of “no”, but also knows how to get his way by making you smile. Clever baba!
Love and affection
According to psychologist Erik Erikson, your baby’s psychosocial development during the first year is built on trust. Your baby will learn to trust you when his physical and emotional needs are consistently met.
Babies quickly learn how to tell an adult when they’re not physically comfortable and adults learn to interpret their cries for help. When babies are physically comfortable and emotionally secure, they learn to love and to be loved – a survival instinct unique to humans and one on which your baby’s future depends.