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The 1st Year of Life: Mental and Physical Development

Jan 15, 2022 The first year of a child’s life is very fascinating. It is probably the most difficult time for them, as well because they are learning so many new skills and working on utilizing those skills on a daily basis.

This is why children go through fussy periods, or “leaps,” in their first year and a half of life. For more information on mental and physical leaps, I highly suggest you download the app, “The Wonder Weeks.” I used the program for my daughter and am currently using it for my son. The best part is that it’s free!

The purpose of this blog is to outline what is truly happening in those bodies during the first year of life!

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The Brain

The first thing we need to talk about is the brain. Not many people realize that when babies are born, their brains are only 25% of their eventual size in adulthood. It grows to about 80% of its full size during the first few years of life! 

Myelination of the brain begins near six months in utero. This process has been researched significantly and is closely connected to speech and language and cognitive development. It’s the process in which the cells can rapidly send information back and forth to other parts of the body, such as nerves. It also allows for more complex brain processes, like understanding complex information.

This process achieves its peak growth between birth and the end of the first year and continues to grow until adulthood.

Wenicke’s and Broca’s areas continue to develop and mature, but do not fully form until around 24 months. These two areas are primarily responsible for speech and language development. Any damage or immaturity of these two areas will lead to deficits in speech abilities. 

Crying and Communication

My son suffered from colic. I was told by most people and my pediatrician that it would end around 6 months of age.

Well, everyone was wrong. He is almost 9 months and is JUST starting to emerge from this fussiness. All he did was cry!

As frustrating as it could be at times, babies communicate mostly through crying until they are one-year-old. According to McGlaughlin and Grayson (2003), MOST babies will cry for this amount of times per day:

  • 1-3 months = 90 mins, mostly in the evening
  •  4-6 months = 64.7 mins, mostly afternoon
  •  7-9 months = 60.5 mins, afternoon/evening 
  • 10-12 months = 86.4 mins, mostly evening 
  • Other studies show decrease at 10+ months (McGlaughlin & Grayson, 2003).

You might ask why the crying decreases and then increases again. Please remember that all children are different. In my experience, the crying DID DECREASE around 10 months of age.

This is because they are more independent and can occupy themselves more. They will probably be crawling and don’t rely on you as much to carry them around or entertain them. 

Babies in their first year will only make a handful of sounds. THIS IS NORMAL – so do not be worried that your child has a speech delay. Children make the following sounds during their first year of life:

  1. /b/
  2. /m/
  3. /p/
  4. /h/
  5. /n/
  6. /d/

These sounds are typically accompanied by vowels. For example, mama, dada, hi, are all short utterances that children might produce around their first birthdays. My son, who is almost 9-months-old, can say “mama,” “ha,” (which we think is him trying to say hi), and “ga.” My daughter, at around the same age, was saying “da,” “ha,” and “nana.”

 So you can see that even in the same household, with the same parents, their first babbling patterns were different!

Motor Skills

Equally as important as speech development, your child will start to make significant gains in his/her motor activity. The following behaviors relating to motor development are generally seen in children throughout their first year:

  • 0-2 months = achieves visual focus (can look at your face for periods of time), lifts head (prone)
  • 0-3 months = reaches and grasps 
  • 0-4 months = establishes head control 
  • 0-5 months = sits with support, mouths objects
  • 0-6 months  = improved jaw control for chewing 
  • 0-7 months  = crawls & pulls to standing 
  • 0-8 months  = manipulates objects 
  • 0-9 months = stands briefly, claps 
  • 0-10 months = drinks from cup 
  • 0-12 months  takes first steps (McLaughlin, 1998)

I know I’ve said this several times, but every child is unique and will develop at their own pace. Don’t rush them, but do what you can to encourage them. If you feel like your child is falling significantly behind in any of these areas, early intervention is key, so talk to your pediatrician and get referrals, if needed!

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The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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