An infant is the very young offspring of a human or other mammal. When applied to humans, the term is usually considered synonymous with baby, but the latter is commonly applied to the young of any animal. When a human child learns to walk, the term toddler may be used instead.
The term infant is typically applied to human children between the ages of 1 month and 12 months; however, definitions vary between birth and 3 years of age. A newborn is an infant who is only hours, days, or up to a few weeks old. In medical contexts, newborn or neonate (from Latin, neonatus, newborn) refers to an infant in the first 28 days after birth; the term applies to premature infants, postmature infants, and full term infants. Before birth, the term feotus is used.
Infant is also a legal term referring to any child under the age of legal adulthood.
A newborn’s shoulders and hips are wide, the abdomen protrudes slightly, and the arms and legs are relatively long with respect the the rest of their body. In first world nations, the average birthweightof a full-term newborn is approximately 7 ½ lbs.(3.2 kg), and is typically in the range of 5.5–10 pounds (2.7–4.6 kg). The average total body length is 14–20 inches (35.6–50.8 cm), although premature newborns may be much smaller. The apgar scoreis a measure of a newborn’s transition from the uterousduring the first minutes after birth.
A newborn’s head is very large in proportion to the body, and the craniumis enormous relative to his or her face. While the adult human skull is about 1/8 of the total body length, the newborn’s is about 1/4. At birth, many regions of the newborn’s skull have not yet been converted to bone, leaving “soft spots” known as fontnatals. The two largest are the diamond-shaped anterior fontanel, located at the top front portion of the head, and the smaller triangular-shaped posterior fontanel, which lies at the back of the head. Later in the child’s life, these bones will fuse together in a natural process. A protein called nogginis responsible for the delay in an infant’s skull fusion
During labourand birth, the infant’s skull changes shape to fit through the birth canal, sometimes causing the child to be born with a misshapen or elongated head. It will usually return to normal on its own within a few days or weeks. Special exercises sometimes advised by physiciansmay assist the process.
Some newborns have a fine, downy body hair called lanugo. It may be particularly noticeable on the back, shoulders, forehead, ears and face of premature infants. Lanugo disappears within a few weeks. Infants may be born with full heads of hair; others, particularly whiteinfants, may have very fine hair or may even be bald. Amongst fair-skinned parents, this fine hair may be blond, even if the parents are not. The scalpmay also be temporarily bruised or swollen, especially in hairless newborns, and the area around the eyes may be puffy.
Newborns’ digestive tracts, which of course have never been used prior to birth, are filled with a greenish-black, sticky material called meconiam. This has the function of standing in for fecal material and allows the intestines to develop to the point where they can process milk immediately on birth. This material is passed by the child in the first few days.
Immediately after birth, a newborn’s skin is often grayish to dusky blue in color. As soon as the newborn begins to breathe, usually within a minute or two, the skin’s color reaches its normal tone. Newborns are wet, covered in streaks of blood, and coated with a white substance known as vernix caseosa, which is hypothesised to act as an antibacterial barrier. The newborn may also have mongolian spots, various other birthmarks, or peeling skin, particularly on the wrists, hands, ankles, and feet.
A newborn’s genitalsare enlarged and reddened, with male infants having an unusually large scrotum. The breasts may also be enlarged, even in male infants. This is caused by naturally occurring maternal hormones and is a temporary condition. Females (and even males) may actually discharge milk from their nipples (sometimes called witch’s milk), and/or a bloody or milky-like substance from the vagina. In either case, this is considered normal and will disappear in time.
The umbilical chordof a newborn is bluish-white in color. After birth, the umbilical cord is normally cut, leaving a 1–2 inch stub. The umbilical stub will dry out, shrivel, darken, and spontaneously fall off within about 3 weeks. Occasionally, hospitalsmay apply triple dye to the umbilical stub to prevent infection, which may temporarily color the stub and surrounding skin purple.
Internal physiological changes at birth
Upon entry into the air-breathing world, without the nutrition and oxygenation via the umbilical cord, the newborn must begin to adjust to life outside the uterus.
Newborns can feel all different sensations, but respond most enthusiastically to soft stroking, cuddling and caressing. Gentle rocking back and forth often calms a crying infant, as do massages and warm baths. Newborns may comfort themselves by sucking their thumb, or a dummy. The need to suckle is instinctive and allows newborns to feed.
Newborn infants have unremarkable vision, being able to focus on objects only about 18 inches (45 cm) directly in front of their face. While this may not be much, it is all that is needed for the infant to look at the mother’s eyes or breastfeeding.
Generally, a newborn cries when wanting to feed. When a newborn is not sleeping, or feeding, or crying, he or she may spend a lot of time staring at various objects. Usually anything that is shiny, has sharp contrasting colors, or has complex patterns will catch an infant’s eye. However, the newborn has a preference for looking at other human faces above all else.
In utero, the infant can hear many internal noises, such as the mother’sheartbeat, in addition to external noises including the human voice, music and most other sounds.
Therefore, though a newborn’s ears may have some catarrhand fluid, he or she can hear sound from before birth. Newborns usually respond more readily to a female voice over a male voice. This may explain why people will unknowingly raise the pitch of their voice when talking to newborns
The sound of other human voices, especially the mother’s, can have a calming or soothing effect on the newborn. Conversely, loud or sudden noises will startle and scare them.
Newborns have been shown to prefer sounds that were a regular feature of their prenatal environment, for example, the theme tune of a television programme their mother watched regularly.
Newborns can respond to differing tastes, including sweet, sour, bitter, and salty substances, with a preference toward sweetness. It has been shown that neonates show a preference for the smell of foods that their mother ate regularly.
Care and feeding
Infants cry as a form of basic instinctive communication. A crying infant may be trying to express a variety of feelings including hunger, discomfort, overstimulation, boredom, wanting something, or loneliness.
Breastfeeding is the recommended method of feeding by all major infant health organizations.
If breastfeeding is not possible or desired, bottle feeding is done with expressed breast-milk or with infant formula. Infants are born with a sucking reflex allowing them to extract the milk from the nipplesof the breasts or the nipple of the baby bottle, as well as an instinctive behavior known as rooting with which they seek out the nipple.
As infants grow, food supplements are added.
Many parents choose commercial, ready-made baby foodsto supplement breast milk or formula for the child, while others adapt their usual meals for the dietary needs of their child.
Whole cow’s milk can be used at one year, but lower-fat milk should not be provided until the child is 2 to 3 years old. Weaning is the feeding stage for older infants almost toddlers. It is a process where solid foods are introduced into the diet and is slowly replaced in exchange of milk.Until they are toilet-trained, infants in industrialized countries wear nappies/diapers.
Children need more sleep than adults—up to 18 hours for newborn babies, with a declining rate as the child ages. Until babies learn to walk, they are carried in the arms, held in slings or baby carriers, or transported in baby carriages or strollers.
Most industrialized countries have laws requiring child safety seatsfor babies in motor vehicles.
Infant mortality is the death of an infant in the first year of life, often expressed as the number of deaths per 1000 live births (infant mortality rate).
Major causes of infant mortality include dehydration,infection, and malformation.
This epidemicologicalindicator is recognized as a very important measure of the level of health care in a country because it is directly linked with the healthstatus of infants, children, and pregnant women as well as access to medical care, socio-economic conditions, and public healthpractices.
Attachment theory is primarily an evolutionaryand ethologicaltheory whereby the infant or child seeks proximity to a specified attachment figure in situations of alarm or distress for the purpose of survival.
The forming of attachments is considered to be the foundation of the infant/child’s capacity to form and conduct relationships throughout life.
Attachment is not the same as love and/or affection although they often go together. Attachment and attachment behaviourstend to develop between the age of 6 months and 3 years.
Infants become attachedto adults who are sensitive and responsive in social interactionswith the infant, and who remain as consistent caregivers for some time.
Parental responses lead to the development of patterns of attachment which in turn lead to ‘internal working models’ which will guide the individual’s feelings, thoughts, and expectations in later relationships.
There are a number of attachment-stylesnamely ‘secure’, ‘anxious-ambivalent’, ‘anxious-avoidant’, (all ‘organized’) and ‘disorganized’, some of which are more problematic than others. A lack of attachment or a seriously disrupted capacity for attachment could potentially amount to serious disorders.
- Obstetrics: Cutting the Cord Too Soon (time.com)
- C-Sections Might Put Preemies at Risk for Breathing Problems (nlm.nih.gov)
- How the Alexander Technique can help Premature and Brain-Injured Babies (lukeford.net)
- What to ask a pediatrician about breastfeeding (rakhealthmatters.wordpress.com)
- New infant formula ingredients boost babies’ immunity by feeding their gut bacteria (eurekalert.org)
- Premature born babies have more health problems, study says (bhlnews.com)