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Infant while breastfeeding

A child in the first year of life is called an infant or baby .

After birth , a young person is naturally fed with breast milk , through breastfeeding or suckling on the female breast . Similar to the offspring of other mammals , the human infant is competent for this form of nutrition through innate reflexes such as the searching and sucking reflexes . They also allow liquid food to be consumed by sucking on a bottle and thus feeding on a breast milk substitute when the infant is not breastfed.

Etymology and uses of terms

The word infant developed in late Middle High German sügelinc from the verb suck for 'to draw in liquid with lips and tongue', ahd. Sūgan in the 8th century. The now more common colloquial word baby was in the 1840s from the English baby as a pet form of engl. babe borrowed and belongs to the lall words that - like engl. to babble - for example in the Deutsches babble , babble , or babbling onomatopoeic are common. In Switzerland, the Bébé , derived from French , is also common, in German it is also known as a diaper or, officially, a toddler .


During the first four weeks, a child is also called a newborn . After completing the first year of life, toddlers follow.

Bodily development

Like other primates, the human infant is a carrier . There are typical development phases in the first year of life, the spread of which increases with age. Temporary differences in development are common and can be compensated for. Noticeable or long-term deviations in physical development are the subject of pediatrics . There are child screening examinations to identify developmental delays at an early stage .

Newborn baby on a weight scale

After three to five months, a healthy baby has doubled its birth weight and has grown by about six inches. At the end of the first year of life, the child weighs around ten kilograms, which is around three times the weight at birth, and is around 75 centimeters tall. The older a child is, the greater the spread for what can be considered normal in terms of weight and height. In order to take this into account, comparisons in medicine with the usual development of height and weight according to age and gender are not made according to the average value, but based on so-called percentiles .

The assessment of the relationship between body size and body weight is also based on such relative values, but also takes other factors into account. The course of the individual growth curve is of particular importance here.

The ratio of head to torso in the infant is about 1 to 4, while in the adult there is a ratio of 1 to 8. This type of growth, which involves a change in proportion, is called allometric growth .

The time between conception and the second birthday is of particular importance for development over the entire lifespan, as this is the time when central foundations for health, growth and neural development are laid.

Tooth development

The course of tooth eruption is subject to a wide range. While some children teething early , the process can be postponed by several months. As a rule, in the second half of life, the central incisors erupt first, the lower before the upper, then the lateral incisors. This is followed, usually in the second year of life, by the four first molars, then the canines and finally the second molars. The full integration of the twenty teeth of the deciduous dentition is most appropriate, reached the end of the third year of life.

Sensorimotor development

Sensorimotor development is understood as the dynamic interaction of perceptions (via sensory stimuli) and reactive movement (via neuromuscular interplay). Current research assumes that humans fall back on an innate learning program in their first year of life, which enables them to undergo continuous development from birth to standing upright.

Like all people, even babies are individuals. They are different and already have character traits. There is a very wide range of healthy developments and the order in which skills are learned can vary.

Language development

In the first few months of life, the child's utterances are limited to occasional screaming as an expression of displeasure. At around three to four months old, the infant slowly begins to babble and babble. Targeted vocalizations will soon be used for communication, with the infant responding to speech with single vowels. During this time, the motor skills of the vocal apparatus improve, so that at the end of the infancy period, double syllables such as "Mama" or "Papa" can be spoken in most cases.

Reflexes and reactions

Reflexes are involuntary, regularly occurring processes in response to external stimuli, recorded mainly via receptors of the skin and proprioceptors as well as organs of the sense of balance . They are transmitted centrally via the brain stem and the diencephalon (thalamus and pallidum), the answer is not very variable. Responses are more complex responses to external stimuli that occur in a specific pattern. The patterns can be interrupted and changed.

All early childhood reflexes and reactions are assigned to a certain area and a certain level of integration in the central nervous system . Within a certain period of time, they are considered physiological and are expected. They accompany the sensorimotor development of the child in different phases and will be replaced later. Only some of the reflexes and reactions that are important for diagnosis and treatment are explained below. Unless otherwise noted, the supine position is considered the starting position.

Primitive reflexes

Palmar grasping reflex

  • Brush the palms of the hands with the thumb ⇒ gripping, close fists
  • physiological: 0 to 6 months of age, afterwards it prevents hand support and coordinated gripping

Plantar grasping reflex

  • Brush the ball of the toe with your thumb ⇒ toe claws
  • physiological: 0 to 11 months of age, from the start of running it disturbs or prevents walking


  • loud noises or vibrations ⇒
  1. Ironing phase (tensioning the extensor muscles and stretching the head): The arms shoot up to the side with deep breaths and then freeze.
  2. Umklammerungsphase (tension of the flexor muscle and head flexion): The arms are brought back to the fuselage and the child begins very loud screaming.
  • physiological: from the 6th week only the ironing phase, breaks down with the fixation of the head


  • the child is held in the prone position in suspension and you stroke the width of your finger along the spine from the shoulder blade to the iliac crest ⇒ lateral flexion of the spine and turning the head to the same side
  • physiological: 0 to 2 month of life, weakening to 5 month of life.

Walking reflex (automatic walking)

  • the child is carried with both hands on the side of the chest and the feet are alternately allowed to take on light weight ⇒ the child walks forward.
  • physiological: 0 to 3 months of age, the legs must remain bent.

Extensor shock

  • The child is carried with both hands on the side of the chest and the feet are allowed to take on a light weight at the same time ⇒ the child answers with a rapid stretching of the legs and trunk.
  • physiological: 0 to 3 months of age.

Tonic reflexes

After the mass movements and the primitive reflexes have broken down, differentiated movements develop, with the muscle tone depending on the position of the head. Tonic reflexes develop, but in a healthy baby they are never so pronounced that they hinder the assumption of different body positions. If they persist beyond the physiological period, they prevent the straightening and the development of the righting and equilibrium reactions.

TLR (Tonic Labyrinth Reflex)

  • Bending the head ⇒ increasing flexion tone
  • Stretching the head back ⇒ increasing stretching tone
  • physiological: 0 to 3 months of age.

STNR (symmetrical tonic neck reflex)

  • Bending the head ⇒ bending the arms and straightening the legs
  • Extending the head back ⇒ straightening the arms and bending the legs
  • physiological: 0 to 3 months of age.

ATNR (asymmetrical tonic neck reflex)

  • Sideways rotation of the head ⇒ face side: arm stretched, hand loosely fisted, leg stretched with forefoot placed, occiput: arm bent in a loosely U-shaped position, leg loosely bent with ground contact. This posture is also known as the fencing position .
  • physiological: 4th to 8th week

Actuating reactions

The positioning reactions are used to adjust the head and trunk in the event of a change in position in space. They develop after the tonic reflexes have been broken down, serve to develop anti-gravity and are the prerequisite for support and equilibrium reactions. They are integrated into the voluntary movements and remain in a modified form for a lifetime.

LSR (labyrinth setting reaction)

  • From the 6th week the child begins to lift his head in the prone position and adjust it against gravity.
  • physiological: full development up to the 5th month of life.

HSR (neck reaction)

  • If the head is turned in the supine position, the body follows “en bloc”.
  • physiological: up to the 3rd month of life, afterwards selective mobility should be possible.

Body position reaction to the body

  • it enables rotation between the shoulder and pelvic girdles when turned.
  • physiological: it should be fully developed by the 7th month of life, when the child can turn from the supine position to the prone position and back again. It is a prerequisite for aligning the head, trunk and extremities against gravity.

Readiness to jump

  • the child is carried on the side of the pelvis in the prone position and quickly led downwards towards a surface ⇒ the child brings the arms forward to support it.
  • physiological: triggered from the 5th month of life.


Social behavior

Smiling infant

An expression of Smiles show infants in the first few weeks of life, usually during sleep. At around 2 months of age, this expression movement as a social smile becomes the innate response to contact.

With the ability to differentiate between known and strangers, the answers become more differentiated. So it comes to strangling between about four and eight months , which shows a distance to unknown people. It is often at this age that children begin to cry if they are picked up by anyone other than their mother or father.

At around nine months of age, the child begins to make contact with someone they do not know, for example by smiling. Towards the end of the infancy period, the child can then use a variety of ways to express his affection for familiar people.

Gaming behavior

While playing with their own fingers is still a common occupation for babies at three to four months of age, the child can soon explore their surroundings through progressive motor development.

At around five to seven months old, the infant reaches for objects that are lying around. These can already be changed between the hands. With hands, eyes and mouth, people begin to explore the external shape of an object that is grasped. At the end of the infancy period, the child plays with objects and also examines their internal cohesion by shaking them, throwing them, knocking them or repeatedly dropping them.

Care, retention and communication

The quality of the relationship with the caregiver and the forms of interaction that can be learned are of eminent importance for psychosocial development and the development of socio-cultural skills. Even in the first year of life, it is not only important for young people to be nourished, warmed, dressed, protected and wrapped. In addition to reliable external care, the continuous intimate relationship of caring trusted people is essential to its well-being and prosperity. The main caregiver is usually the mother, but the father can also accompany his child during sleep phases and give him attention or offer communication during the wake phase. Reacting promptly to signals from the baby is only possible for a caregiver who is ready and in constant contact. The interpretation of these signals is mostly intuitive; In the course of getting to know each other, more subtle signs of sensitivity emerge as the understanding progresses. Body contact is most important for communication, later contact can be maintained through looks and sounds.

Language development

Caregivers of an infant are recommended to pick up and reflect the infant's facial expressions. Repeating and empathizing with his facial expressions enables the infant to experience effectiveness and easier recognition of his own actions (compare mirror neurons ). Exaggerated facial expressions and gestures are recommended as they are clearer forms of expression. The baby's babble should also be picked up and repeated. The first small dialogues arise through mutual imitation of sounds. A pronounced clear pronunciation and melodic intonation make it easier to recognize individual words in a sentence. Using simplified “baby talk” (such as “Did you do ouch?” Instead of “Did you hurt yourself?”) Is not recommended.

Even if parents cannot yet understand the babbling of babies, a timely reaction of the parents to the babbling leads to faster language acquisition. This has been confirmed by researchers who studied mothers' behavior towards 8-month-old infants and later tested the vocabulary of infants when they were 15 months old.

A first important development of infants is the discovery that they can influence their parents through babbling (development of intentional communication). Parents can encourage this by keeping their babies busy chattering. This in turn influences further language development, since infants then turn to their parents more often.

Previous studies have shown that when parents smile in the direction of the infant or touch the infant every time the infant looks and babbles at them, it promotes language. It also helps if parents react to what they believe their baby is saying (such as giving a ball or commenting when the baby looks at the ball and babbles). The reaction to sounds made when the baby looks at an object (object-directed vocalizations) thus provide an opportunity to learn the name of the object. This also teaches infants that sounds are connected to objects. However, language support is only achieved if parents react positively to the infant's babbling (e.g. smiling). A high reaction rate without any connection with the infant's expressions does not lead to any language support. If a mother tries instead to draw the child's attention to something else, it is detrimental to language development.


Sensitivity plays a special role in the relationship with the baby. This is understood to mean attentively perceiving one's expressions of behavior, not misinterpreting their expressions due to one's own sensitivities, reacting immediately to the situation and finding a response appropriate to the context and the expressed needs. A secure bond is promoted through empathic, adequate and prompt answers . According to their basic needs, infants show an innate behavior to seek closeness to the mother - or to another primary caregiver - and thus promote a bond on their part . When separated from their mother, infants protest by crying and moving their bodies.


Carrying has a calming effect on babies. A 2013 study showed that infants placed in a cradle cried and stepped more often and had an increased heart rate (the infants were stressed), while those placed in a cradle calmed down significantly. The effect of holding it still in the arm was somewhere between that of carrying it around and that of putting it down. A randomized study from 1986 had already shown that being carried (e.g. in a baby sling ) makes babies more satisfied and makes them cry less.

Breastfeeding is recommended for feeding infants by all major infant health organizations .

Gallery: newborns


In the last few years science has intensified in this area. Psychologists in particular , particularly developmental psychologists , deal with the development of infants.

Prehistory found that baby bottles existed as early as 3,000 years ago.


Web links

Wiktionary: Infant  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Infants  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikibooks: Baby book  - learning and teaching materials
  • The 1st year of life - independent information service of the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA)

Individual evidence

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  8. ^ René A. Spitz : The smiling response: a contribution to the ontogenesis of social relations. In: Genetic Psychology Monographs. Volume 34, 1946, pp. 57-125.
  9. Angela Moré: The unconscious passing on of trauma and entanglement of guilt to subsequent generations. Journal für Psychologie, Vol. 21 (2013), Edition 2 (PDF, 34 pages, 353 kB).
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  16. Jodie Smith, Penny Levickis, Tricia Eadie, Lesley Bretherton, Laura Conway: Associations between early maternal behaviors and child language at 36 months in a cohort experiencing adversity . In: International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders . tape 54 , no. 1 , January 2019, ISSN  1368-2822 , p. 110-122 , doi : 10.1111 / 1460-6984.12435 .
  17. Kathrin Keller-Schuhmacher (2010) Attachment - from theory to practice: what is important? Presentation at the AWO conference on November 8, 2010 in Freiburg i.Br., (PDF; 111 kB).
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  19. Urs Hunziker, Ronald Barr: Increased Carrying Reduces Infant Crying: A Randomized Controlled Trial . In: Pediatrics . tape 77 , no. 5 , May 1, 1986, ISSN  0031-4005 , pp. 641-648 , PMID 3517799 ( [accessed February 2, 2020]).
  20. L. Gartner, J. Morton, R. Lawrence, A. Naylor, D. O'Hare, R. Schanler, A. Eidelman: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk . In: Pediatrics . 115, No. 2, February 2005, pp. 496-506. doi : 10.1542 / peds.2004-2491 . PMID 15687461 .
  21. Nora Schultz: Beginnings of Intelligence: Look me in the eyes, little one! In: Spiegel Online . October 30, 2012 ( [accessed September 30, 2019]).
  22. Baby's eyes don't lie - Retrieved September 30, 2019 .
  23. Infant Research - How Babies Discover the World. Retrieved September 30, 2019 (German).
  24. WORLD: Child nutrition: bottles for babies existed 3000 years ago . September 26, 2019 ( [accessed September 30, 2019]).