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The newborn stage of development is the initial stage of development outside the mother’s womb and is a vital period for development. From birth to one month, children begin to build trust with parents and/or caregivers and their environment. It is essential for parents to know the typical developmental patterns of their newborns so that they can be on the lookout for any delays or problems in development. Although normal developmental patterns differ from one newborn to another, all healthy newborns go through some specific growth stages.
The eyes of newborn babies are very sensitive to light. At birth, babies are only able to see outlines and shapes, but cannot focus on far-away objects (Ketchum, 2009). Newborn babies prefer bright colored objects as well as faces. Their senses begin to develop while they are still in their mother’s womb, and they develop at a remarkable rate during the first year. A newborn can recognize familiar voices, especially his/her mother’s since they listen to it the most while in the womb. By one month, babies can tell the difference between particular sounds, such as 'ma' and 'ba'.
Newborns begin to process sensations right from birth. They can feel their parents’ or caregivers’ touch and the cold air on their bodies. Newborn babies can generally detect the five common senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, and vision. These senses are however not fully developed until later in their infant years. By interacting with their environment during activities such as being held by people, touching objects, tasting different flavors, and hearing diverse sounds, the sensory systems of newborns develop steadily. Newborn babies sleep for about 14 to 18 hours a day in the first week and 12 to 16 hours a day by one month of age. However, most newborns do not stay asleep for more than 2 to 4 hours at a time, during the day or at night. This is because they have tiny stomachs and have to wake up often to eat.
New born babies have many reflexes which help them to learn what they need to survive. The startle reflex is characterized by a newborn thrusting its arms outwards and curling its fingers whenever its neck is not supported. The Palmer grasp occurs when the palm of a baby’s hand is touched and its fingers curl around and clinch the stimulus. Sucking is a reflex that enables newborns to feed. When something is put in the mouth of a baby, they always suckle it. Rooting reflex occurs when the chicks of the baby are stroked and they turn their heads towards the direction of the stimulus. This reflex also helps in breastfeeding.
Bonding is the close emotional tie that develops between parents and their newborns at birth. Early contact between parents and their infants later develops into a closer attachment between them. The strong tie between parents or caregivers and their babies provide the babies’ first model for close relationships and cultivate a sense of protection and self-esteem. The responsiveness of a parent to a newborn’s signals can influence the baby's social and cognitive growth. Parents and/or caregivers have a role to support the newborn development.
Parents should establish a safe, protected and predictable environment for newborns to learn. They should understand the rapid changes in a newborn’s developmental status in order to prepare to give active and focused attention to their babies and promote early learning. By providing positive affection and warmth to their newborns and being responsive in ways that are directly linked to a newborn’s signals, parents can successfully support and promote their babies’ cognitive and social skills. These aspects, in addition to providing rich verbal input and maintaining a newborn’s interests, provide the range of support necessary to foster all areas of a newborn’s growth and development (Landry, 2008).