In addition, among the most important things parents and other caring adults can do as children growand develop is to provide them with attention and unconditional support at every stage of their development.Each part of a child’s life involves large changes in development. Each stage has particular developmental milestones associated with it.
1. Prenatal development
encompasses the 40 weeks of pregnancy. After conception, a zygote formsthat rapidly changes into a blastocyte, embryo and finally a fetus. Every week of a woman’s pregnancy,the developing infant undergoes great changes as the body forms and takes shape. During the firstthree months (trimester) of pregnancy, the most dramatic changes occur. A ball of cells divides intothree different types of tissue, which eventually divide to form the different body parts and organsystems. By the end of the first trimester, the fetus has the general appearance of a baby, with head,arms, legs and functioning organ systems.Many problems that eventually become birth defects begin with malformations in the first trimester. For example, neural tube defects occur when the spinal cord fails to close properly. It may cause spinabifida or other more severe birth defects. Some abnormalities that occur are so severe that thepregnancy cannot be sustained and a miscarriage occurs. Other birth defects are the results of geneticdefects, such as Down syndrome or muscular dystrophy. The mother’s actions during pregnancy mayalso affect the fetus, especially if she smokes, drinks alcohol or uses recreational drugs. Some birthdefects can be identified and repaired in infancy.During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, most development is related to growth, weight gainand the outer appearance of the fetus. Some problems during these later parts of pregnancy may resultin premature birth. Babies born before full term may be healthy, but may also be at increased risk for problems such as respiratory trouble, cerebral palsy and developmental delays. Even premature infantsborn with no apparent problems will develop more slowly than their full-term counterparts. Whengauging an infant’s milestones, parents should measure from the baby’s actual due date. For example,a child born one month prematurely should not be expected to meet six-month-old milestones until he or she is at least seven months old.The milestones of development during pregnancy are well defined. A woman’s obstetrician can monitor her progress throughout her pregnancy and can usually tell when certain milestones of weight or growthare not being met. Various prenatal tests may identify and rule out certain genetic problems.
2. Infancy development
covers the period from birth to 12 months of age. During this stage, a baby willexperience rapid changes, including physical growth and brain development. For example, the babybegins to breathe at birth, developing the respiratory system. The cardiac system has functioned duringprenatal development, but changes occur in the heart after birth so that blood is oxygenated andtransported throughout the body. Other than regular growth, physical changes include the fusing of thebones in the baby’s skull and the eruption of teeth in the first year.An infant’s brain also grows rapidly, as does the neural connections inside the brain. In the first year,infants develop greater acuity in their senses and begin to understand and use methods of communication like crying. From early on they recognize speech, especially their parents, andeventually can understand the meanings of some words, long before they can speak coherently. Babiescan speak a few words by their first birthday. They also begin to recognize that things continue to existeven if they are out of sight.Infants also learn about social connections in their first year. They respond to their parents and other caregivers and learn to prefer their presence. They learn to smile, play and interact with others. Byabout the age of eight months, infants may develop separation anxiety when they are separated fromtheir parents or primary caregivers.In addition to physical development of organs, babies have huge developmental changes in their motor skills, cognitive abilities and psychosocial connections during the first year of life. At birth, an infant haslittle control over its body parts. By the first birthday, infants can lift and control their heads and movetheir arms and legs. They can usually coordinate their limbs enough to roll over, crawl and pullthemselves up. Some babies can walk at this stage, and those that cannot begin to do so in the nextfew months.
3. Early childhood development
encompasses the period when children are from one to four yearsold. Huge changes also take place during this stage, as children change from tiny, dependent infants tochildren who can walk, talk and begin formal learning. Many of the changes associated with this stageinvolve movement (walking) and communication (talking). Most children learn to walk early in their second year of life. At such a time, greater vigilance is needed to care for them because they have theability to reach more dangerous objects, but not the understanding to avoid them.