Stages of Baby’s Development – A Newborn’s Basic Instincts

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Newborns also exhibit many reflex responses to external stimulation and these patterns and reflexes help the baby to manage their energy resources as well as their responses to what is around them.

 Just after birth, there is often a short spell where the baby is attentive, looking at and responding to people.

 Sleep patterns of a newborn vary. Research has identified six different states of infant awareness:

  • Quiet or deep sleep: Baby will have eyes closed with no eye movements and no activity apart from occasional jerky movements; regular breathing.
  • Active or light sleep: Baby’s eyes are closed but rapid eye movements can be observed; breathing may be irregular, activity level is low.
  • Drowsiness: Baby’s eyes may open and close but appear dull when open; there is delayed response to stimulation and activity level varies.
  • Alert inactivity: Baby’s eyes are open and bright; his/her attention will focus on outside stimuli such as a ceiling light or something bright.
  • Alert activity: Baby’s eyes are open; activity level is high. Baby will react to stimulation and show increased startles and motor activity.
  • Crying: Intense crying that is hard to stop; high levels of motor activity.

A newborn will exhibit several reflexive responses. Some will last for life. The presence or absence of reflexes and their developmental course will give information about the baby’s neural responses. For instance when the doctor runs a thumb along the left side of baby’s spinal column, the baby should reflexively bent to the left. If this reflex occurs on one side but not the other it is possible the nerves are damaged on the side that shows no reflexive reaction.

Other reflexes a newborn will show include:

  •  Rooting Reflex: Stroke a newborn’s cheek next to the side of his mouth and baby will turn his head to that side and search with his mouth.
  • Moro Reflex: Baby will thrust arms outward, open hands, arch back and stretch legs outward before clenching fists across chest in reaction to a sudden sound or the loss of head support.
  • Palmar or hand grasp: Baby will grasp a finger or rod with his finger.
  • Stepping Reflex: Support baby in upright position with bare feet on flat surface and baby will make rhythmic stepping movements. This reflex disappears in two to three months.
  • Swimming Reflex: Hold baby horizontally on stomach in water and baby will alternate arm and leg movements, exhaling through mouth. This reflex disappears at six months.
  • Plantar or toe grasp: Press finger against ball of baby’s foot and he will curl all toes under. This reflex disappears between eight and twelve months.

Although reflexes are usually automatic, it has been found that environmental factors do affect their appearance for instance a satiated baby may not show a rooting response.

Development in Baby’s First Month – ilestones in Infant’s Development

All babies will develop differently however research helps give a general indication of the different stages of development in infants and approximately when these stages might be seen.

As well as the different stages of development, research also helps suggest when these stages might be seen.

Just after birth baby’s birth weight will drop and this is regained when baby is approximately ten days old.

Newborns will sleep and eat whenever they need it. Some babies sleep as much as twenty hours a day, waking randomly, others might need less sleep and may spend time crying instead.

During the first month the baby will begin to recognise mother’s voice and smell.

Sight and Hearing during the First Few Months of Life

A newborn will turn his head from side to side when lying on his stomach; he will exhibit poor head control when lifted and display alternating movements of his legs when on stomach as if trying to crawl. At this stage too, baby will automatically grasp and hold onto a finger.

Familiar sounds may elicit some response in baby for instance he might respond to music or a TV program his mother watched regularly while he was in her womb. He will be comforted by familiar voices and should be left to sleep with a background of general household sounds.  Baby will turn head towards voices, from birth.

Baby can see from birth but a newborn has difficulty focusing beyond nine inches (22 cm). Adults should make regular eye contact with baby. Over the first few weeks baby’s sight will sharpen until at about six to eight months, he will see the world almost as well as an adult does.

Baby’s hearing is fully mature at the end of the first month. By two months baby will be able to focus both eyes and track a moving object. (Some do this earlier). Also at two months baby will see colour differences more clearly.

How Adults Can Help Baby’s Development

Studies have shown babies prefer human faces to patterns; keep your face close to the newborn so he or she can study your features. When baby is one month old, almost anything passed in front of his face will transfix him. Hold shiny, colourful objects in front of baby and move them up and down. This should attract his attention and encourage his interest in colours. Hang eye-catching mobiles where baby can see them.

Always be sure to support baby’s neck when he is being lifted. Talk to baby continuously while he is awake during the first weeks and months. He will love the different tones in voices. During his first month baby may also try to mimic the faces you make and lip movements. Vocal interactions are crucial in the development of baby so even if you feel silly talking to him in public, just do it.


Bee, Helen L. The Developing Child. 7th ed. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1995.

Gemelli, Ralph J. Normal Child and Adolescent Development. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 1996.

Kagan, Jerome. The Nature of the Child. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

Piaget J. The Psychology of the Child. New York Basic Books 1972.

Neisser U. Cognitive Psychology. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts 1977.


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