The Growing Child: Newborn
In the first month of life, babies usually catch up and surpass their birthweight, then steadily continue to gain weight. A weight loss up to about 10 percent of birthweight is normal in the first two to three days after birth. However, the baby should have gained back to his/her birthweight by about the 10th or 11th day. While all babies may grow at a different rate, the following indicates the average for boys and girls up to 1 month of age:
- Weight: after the first 2 weeks, should gain about 1 ounce each day
- Average length at birth:
- 20 inches for boys
- 19 3/4 inches for girls
- Average length at one month:
- 21 1/2 inches for boys
- 21 inches for girls
- Head size: increases to slightly less than 1 inch more than birth measurement by the end of the first month
Although a newborn spends about 16 hours a day sleeping, the time a baby is awake can be busy. Much of a newborn's movements and activity are reflexes or involuntary - the baby does not purposefully make these movements. As the nervous system begins to mature, these reflexes give way to purposeful behaviors.
Reflexes in newborns include the following:
- root reflex
This reflex occurs when the corner of the baby's mouth is stroked or touched. The baby will turn his/her head and opens his/her mouth to follow and "root" in the direction of the stroking. The root reflex helps the baby find the breast or bottle.
- suck reflex
When the roof of the baby's mouth is touched with the breast or bottle nipple, the baby will begin to suck. This reflex does not begin until about the 32nd week of pregnancy and is not fully developed until about 36 weeks. Premature babies may have a weak or immature sucking ability, because they are born prior to the development of this reflex. Babies also have a hand-to-mouth reflex that accompanies rooting and sucking and may suck on their fingers or hands.
- Moro reflex
The Moro reflex is often called a startle reflex because it usually occurs when a baby is startled by a loud sound or movement. In response to the sound, the baby throws back his/her head, throws out his/her arms and legs, cries, then pulls his/her arms and legs back in. Sometimes, a baby's own cries can startle him/her - initiating this reflex. The Moro reflex lasts until the baby is about 5 to 6 months old.
- tonic neck reflex
When a baby's head is turned to one side, the arm on that side stretches out and the opposite arm bends up at the elbow. This is often called the "fencing" position. The tonic neck reflex lasts until the baby is about 6 to 7 months old.
- grasp reflex
With the grasp reflex, stroking the palm of a baby's hand causes the baby to close his/her fingers in a grasp. The grasp reflex lasts only a couple of months and is stronger in premature babies.
- Babinski reflex
With the Babinski reflex, when the sole of the foot is firmly stroked, the big toe bends back toward the top of the foot and the other toes fan out. This is a normal reflex until the child is about 2 years old.
- step reflex
This reflex is also called the walking or dance reflex because a baby appears to take steps or dance when held upright with his/her feet touching a solid surface.
Newborn babies not only have unique reflexes, but also have a number of physical characteristics and behaviors that include the following:
- head sags when lifted up, needs to be supported
- turns head from side to side when lying on his stomach
- eyes are sometimes uncoordinated, may look cross-eyed
- initially fixes eyes on a face or light then begins to follow a moving object
- beginning to lift head when lying on stomach
- jerky, erratic movements
- moves hands to mouth
At this early age, crying is a baby's only form of communication. At first, all of a baby's cries sound similar, but parents soon recognize different types of cries for hunger, discomfort, frustration, fatigue, and even loneliness. Sometimes, a baby's cries can easily be answered with a feeding, or a diaper change. Other times, the cause of the crying can be a mystery and crying stops as quickly as it begins. Regardless of the cause, responding to your baby's cries with a comforting touch and words are essential in helping your baby learn to trust you and rely on you for love and security. You may also use warmth and rocking movements to comfort your baby.
You may find that your baby responds in many ways, including the following:
- startles at loud noises
- looks at faces and pictures with contrasting black and white images
- gives attention to voices, may turn to a sound
- hints of a smile, especially during sleep
Young babies need the security of a parent's arms, and they understand the reassurance and comfort of your voice, tone, and emotions. Consider the following as ways to foster the emotional security of your newborn:
- Hold your baby face to face.
- Talk in a soothing tone and let your baby hear your affectionate and friendly voice.
- Sing to your baby.
- Walk with your baby in a sling, carrier, or a stroller.
- Swaddle your baby in a soft blanket to help him/her feel secure and prevent startling by the baby's own movements.
- Rock your baby in a rhythmic, gentle motion.
- Respond quickly to your baby's cries.
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