Stages of Infancy

The word “infancy” comes from the Latin “infans”, meaning speechless.  It is a stage in a child’s development which runs from birth until 30 months and can itself be divided up into three distinct periods of development.  As these developmental stages play out, the line between nature and nurture becomes less apparent.  As the weeks and months progress the evolutionary instincts built in to the child work in conjunction with external factors such as interaction and parental nurturing.  It is during this time that the child’s early development is being shaped and their personality starts to come to the surface.  When a child is born their behaviour is primarily a result of reflexes which are not coordinated with sensory activity.  It is during infancy that the child begins to develop these sensorimotor skills as well as those of verbal communication and motor development.

The first developmental stage of infancy is the ‘Neonatal period’.  This period lasts for the first two months of the child’s life and is primarily a time of adaption for the baby.  The child will spend this time adapting to life in the world and out of the womb.  Initially eyesight is very poor however other senses such as smell and hearing are already active at this point with the child becoming adapted at recognising the voice and smell of their mother.  The child will spend long periods of these first few weeks sleeping and feeding, over time however the baby will begin to settle in to a pattern of sleep that sees their waking period’s level out with those periods spent asleep.  Basic reflexes are apparent during this time, which are evident in both the ‘feeding’ and ‘startle’ reflex.

After the first 8 weeks the child moves into the ‘Middle infancy period’ which lasts between the ages of 2 – 15 months.  It is this stage during infancy which is the most exciting for a parent with the child becoming more interactive and curious about their environment.  The child should have developed a regular sleeping pattern during this stage and may seem much more energetic and excitable.  The attachment bond between the parent and the child should be firmly in place by around the 8 month mark.  The attention and affection given to the child over the weeks and months prior will manifest itself in separation anxiety being show by the baby if the parent is not around, or the baby becoming upset and agitated in the presence of strangers.  The size and weight of the baby will likely change dramatically during this 13 month period, with the bones beginning to develop and harden while the head and chest expand dramatically to allow for development of the internal organs and the brain.  The child’s important motor development becomes apparent with increasingly improved muscular coordination.  The child is becoming more active and this eventually results in them sitting upright followed by crawling, standing and eventually walking.  Potty training begins and if the parent is lucky, concludes during this stage but this very much varies from child to child.  Vocal skills are increasingly improving and by ten months the child will begin using their first words resulting in a vocabulary well in excess of 150 words after a 24 month period.

The final stage of infancy is the ‘Toddler phase’.  This period lasts from 15 to 30 months and is where this child really begins to show their character and individual personality.  Once a child finds their feet there’s no stopping them and this is what being a toddler is all about.  The basic motor skills should be well on their way to being developed and curiosity and independence are the words of the day.  There is so many things to look at, touch, smell and taste and that child is going to explore them all.  By doing this the child begins to form opinions, likes and dislikes, foods they will and won’t eat, toys that please them and toys that don’t, everything around them is stimulating their mind and furthering their development.  Their speech, the foundations for which were laid during middle infancy, rapidly improves and the child becomes regularly engaged in verbal interaction.  This is in essence the time in the child’s life that they become a ‘handful’ for the first time and keep their parents very much on their toes!

Infancy is a vital stage in a child’s life, it is the stepping stone to development and the starting point for all that is to come.  Development during this time is achieved both naturally, such as through physical changes allowing the baby to grow in strength, and also through nurturing from the parents, allowing the child to develop speech and personality.  If these two forces work in tandem with each other, the child will have the best start possible leading into their school life where social interaction is such an important factor.   

One fact that should be stressed is that all children develop at different rates and the time frames given in this article should be considered only as a guide.  The time frames have been determined during experiments and observations undertaken over many years by psychologists, who have then correlated the data and worked out the average.  Children come in all shapes and sizes and if every one of them were average, well, where would be the fun in that?!  Enjoy parenting and enjoy your child’s development whether they are walking after 10 months or 18 months.  Take it all in because you’ll wake up tomorrow and they’ll be 25!