A profile of a newborn baby

A newborn baby appears helpless but from the very beginning is learning about life as he or she explores their environment.

A healthy full-term baby cries, feeds, sleeps, watches and listens carefully. The baby is dependent on adults for survival and will cry when he or she feels hungry, uncomfortable or lonely. Babies need small amounts of food at frequent intervals to grow, to provide energy and maintain health. If babies are fed on demand they soon settle into a regular pattern of feeds. Babies also need comfort and company. They thrive on cuddles and gentle handling. As the primary caregiver responds to the crying baby the baby learns to trust and feel secure that their needs will be met. Responding to a crying baby does not spoil them, instead it gives the baby confidence that the world is a safe place when he or she is valued and cared for. Responding to a crying baby helps to establish a sense of security and self-esteem for the baby and as babies learn to trust they become less demanding. By crying, a baby ensures their emotional as well as physical needs are met.

Early relationships between baby and mother are vital for the child's emotional wellbeing. John Bowlby used the term bonding to describe the emotional attachment of the baby and mother. More recent work has shown that babies bond with both parents and a small number of regular caregivers. A baby is not deprived when cared for by father, or a grandparent, aunt, nanny, childminder or foster family, so long as the care is consistent and trustworthy.

Interaction with a baby during feeding and changing is an important way to help bonding. Babies need physical closeness when feeding, whether they are breast or bottle fed. Feeding a baby is not just about survival it is also about comfort and enjoying being together. Holding baby close helps him or her feel safe and makes feeding time a happy experience. Mealtimes should be calm, with time to share each other's company and tenderness. The baby sucks in bursts and sensitive caregivers fill in the gaps by talking to the baby. Already, the baby is learning about taking turns in conversation.

Newborn babies cannot co-ordinate their actions. They move randomly with primitive reflex actions. Rooting for food, sucking, grasping, walking and startle reflexes are all automatic. Some reflexes are concerned with survival. For example: Feeding - when a newborn baby's cheek is touched the baby turns the head in that direction and opens the mouth rooting for food. A baby will automatically suck whatever is in the mouth. Few people fail to notice a new baby's grasp reflex. Place a finger in the palm of a baby's hand and the tiny fingers grasp it tightly. Baby's brain is not fully developed. Nerve pathways are reinforced as baby repeats actions and movements. After a time, actions stop being automatic and are controlled by the conscious will. The baby learns to control the actions of sucking and grasping and eventually walking.

Caring for a baby's needs provides opportunities for learning about the world. Piaget states that babies learn through their senses. Sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Very young babies can recognise the smell of their own mother's breast milk. It takes time for baby to understand the sensations of vision and hearing. Babies prefer looking at human faces. They are able to see bright contrasting colours and are attracted to watch movement. Brightly coloured mobiles help to develop visual awareness. At first the baby can focus on objects at a distance of 12 inches. This is fortunately the distance between the baby's eyes and the caregiver's face when the baby is held close when feeding. The most important educational activity for a baby is watching an adult talking and smiling.

Listening also develops as adults interact with babies. There is a confusing array of sounds in the baby's world, but he or she is attracted to familiar voices. They need time to listen to familiar human voices without the distraction of background noises. Newborn babies sleep between feeds. As they sleep growth hormone is released and they grow. Sleep also enables the baby to make sense of all the stimulation the senses receive. The brain is active from birth sending and receiving messages and interpreting information. The baby has so much to learn and is well equipped for learning.

The newborn baby:
  • cries for food, comfort and food
  • needs to be fed on demand when they are hungry
  • enjoys conversations when feeding
  • bonds with a small number of regular caregivers
  • learns to trust and feel secure as needs are met
  • needs physical comfort from gentle handling and touching
  • has primitive reflexes and cannot co-ordinate movements
  • learns through the senses
  • is visually aware of brightly coloured moving mobiles
  • prefers to watch familiar faces
  • needs quietness to concentrate to listen to familiar voices
  • needs sleep to grow and understand their world

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    Visitors to this page since 17th Nov 2004 . Maintained by Road Ahead