Thoughtful Parenting: Helping babies thrive

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There have been numerous books written about the stages of infant growth and development. My colleagues from the Nurse Family Partnership like the “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child” by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and my favorite is “The Baby Book” by Dr. Sears. There also are screening tools used during well-child visits that can help track an infant during this incredible time of change and growth. Here’s a brief overview:

Each infant has its own individual development that may vary from the norm. The important thing is that the baby’s progression is steady and increasing in skill. For example, babies are born with reflexive responses. These include startle, rooting or sucking and hand curling around a finger when the palm is stroked. The infant’s reaction gradually becomes more intentional and directed — interactive rather than reactive. As with all developmental tasks, parents can encourage this interaction by ensuring there is a safe and consistent environment.

Physical development is how babies move their bodies and use their hands. Again, we look for a steady pattern of growth. Holding a head up when coming to a sitting position is a good example. Eyes following an object and, as vision improves, hands reaching for an object show the neurons are expanding and the muscles are getting stronger. Legs get more active, eventually leading to the baby discovering its feet. One of the most delightful moments is watching the baby’s reaction to this discovery.

Think about encouraging the use of the baby’s hands while packing the diaper bag. Giving the baby access to safe and interesting objects with different textures, colors and shapes is useful in expanding the baby’s curiosity as well as developing its dexterity.

Lastly, encouraging the baby’s socialization probably is the most rewarding. Receiving that first smile, listening to the cooing in response to attention from a parent or watching the reaction to a parent’s tone of voice can be the best.

I have scratched only the surface; infant growth and development is a wonderfully complex subject. We are lucky to live in this community because of the wealth of expertise in all areas of development. We have excellent health professionals to support the physical well-being of babies as well as many other professionals who are able to support the social and emotional health of infants and their families. First Impressions of Routt County continually works to educate and support early childhood professionals as well as the families they serve. There also are outreach programs, including Nurse Family Partnership and Newborn Network, that are free to new parents. If you have any questions, call First Impressions at 970-870-5270. Let’s keep those babies thriving and growing.

Hope Cook is a public health nurse with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. The VNA has been a member of the Routt County Early Childhood Council since its inception in 1997.

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