An infant is born with the basic wiring necessary to breathe, eat, sleep and maintain its bodily functions. Beyond this, it is wholly upon the caregiver to meet the needs an infant requires for survival. Adequate nutrition, warmth, sleep, cleanliness and a loving hand send the infant a clear message that the baby soon learns to respond to. Innately, a baby knows to cry to call attention to itself when a need, such as hunger, arises. How caregivers interpret and respond to to those beginnings of communication affect the growth and development of the infant.
It is perhaps the most overlooked of infant needs, yet the most important. A quick response to an infant's cries is communication in its most basic form. At this early stage, there is no "spoiling." An infant, entirely at the whim of the caregiver, must use his natural resources to communicate what he needs to survive. Holding, rocking and looking into the child's eyes, promote health, development and a source to learn and mimic from. Continuity of care is also of importance to the infant's development. For those who are in daycare or who have multiple caregivers, a loving caregiver who can build a relationship of trust with the infant hastens the child's development. Children who are denied the benefits of a loving, trusting bond, learn that their cries often go unanswered and their needs unmet. These children, unless particularly resilient, tend to have difficulty forming healthy relationships and show slower cognitive gains.
Good nutrition and adequate amounts of food are essential to the growing and developing infant. An infant's stomach is small, therefore small meals, given frequently, are required to provide nourishment. Breast milk or high-quality formula, given every two hours, keep the infant's fast metabolism and rapidly developing brain the energy it needs. Sleeping through the night is not beneficial to the infant, whose needs for food outweigh a full night of sleep. The average baby doubles their birth weight by 4 months. Children who are undernourished may show a lack of interest in their surroundings, avoid eye contact, be generally irritable and fail to reach normal developmental milestones, such as sitting up, walking and talking.
The infant is born with basic genetic wiring that allows him to survive, but his environment provides associations that allows the interconnected element of learning to take place. Given surroundings that are positive, extensive and rich with meaning, the infant's world is one filled with possibility. The infant brain is primed for specific learning, such as speech. When the infant hears speech, his brain has the capability of organizing sound to formulate meaning. The more often and varied his exposure to language, the stronger these connections become. In cases where exposure to language is limited, learning is consequently limited. In extreme cases, the open pathways set up genetically become inaccessible and development fails. Within the infant brain, most learning operates in a similar fashion, where exposure to new experiences allows the brain to grow, strengthen and develop.
Physical disorders can interfere with learning, nutrition and physical development. A physical ailment at the infant stage can run the gamut from obvious and severe to obscure and difficult to ascertain. A chromosomal disorder, such as Down syndrome, is often more readily identified than a thyroid or gastrointestinal disorder. Often, babies with a physical disorder will show certain signs that are put under the umbrella term, "failure to thrive." Height, weight and head circumference measurements that are significantly below normal, slow acquisition of physical skills, such as rolling over, sitting, standing and walking, as well as mental and social skills may be the result of a physical disorder. Other symptoms include: constipation, excessive crying, excessive sleepiness and irritability.
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