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The past few years, teaching developmental psychology, I always saw this part of the course as boring. Infancy was something that we had to "get through" as a class, so we could get on to the more interesting topics such as language development, identity crisis, self-esteem, etc.

THEN... I had another baby. I had forgotten how fascinating infants can be.

There is no other period of life which even comes close to infancy in the rapid pace of growth. You can literally watch a baby grow in a few weeks. Our baby, Julia, was one month old when I wrote this web page. When she was born, she weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces and was 20 1/2 inches long. After two weeks, she had gained two pounds and grown two inches. In other words, she had increased her weight by almost 25% and her length by 10%. For my next youngest daughter, who is 11, to show a similar growth rate, she would need to gain 20 pounds and grow five inches - IN TWO WEEKS! Think, for a minute, of that amazing growth rate. Speaking of my 11-year-old daughter, I think her comments provide a useful introduction to this section.


     You are gross, just gross! You are SO-O-O gross! I don't understand why everybody says that babies are so cute and sweet. You're not sweet. You wake Mom up in the middle of the night and then she sleeps late in the morning and everyone else gets late to school. And you are always hungry. You are such a pig; you are just eating all of the time. And you SMELL! You smell disgusting. You poop and pee and spit up. You get every kind of bodily fluid on everything. You spit up on me and on my shirt and on the car seat and the blanket. You peed on the changing table and on mom's hand and leaked all over your clothes.
     And you CRY! You cry all the time, stupid baby! You wake everybody up with your stupid crying in the middle of the night, including me. You never quit crying unless you are being fed or taking a bath - and then, the last time, you pooped in the bathtub. You are SO gross! All you ever do is eat, sleep, cry and get bodily fluids all over everything.

    Actually, while you may think Ronda is being inordinately harsh in her description of her baby sister,  and perhaps well on her way to causing lasting damage to the baby's self-esteem, she has hit on some very appropriate points. First of all, there is the description of what babies do.

    Wolff identified six states of infants:

    • regular sleep
    • drowsiness
    • waking activity
    • irregular sleep
    • crying
    • alert inactivity

    Notice that four of these states are similar to those mentioned by Ronda - crying, two types of sleep and almost asleep. While this use of time strikes an eleven-year-old as extremely boring, it is necessary for a couple of reasons. First,  all that growing takes a lot of energy, and, consequently, wears a body out. Second, babies are exposed to new stimuli constantly. My husband commented that being a newborn must be like being constantly high. (Having attended the University of California in the early seventies, he had the opportunity to witness many people in such a state!)

    It is true that newborns are constantly being bombarded with new sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures that they have never experienced before. The world is a completely different experience to infants than it is to us. Adults ignore much of the stimuli around them, because they have learned what to "tune out". For example, you may be sitting in a computer lab at this very minute. Without looking, can you answer the following questions:

    • How many other computers are in the room?
    • Are there any posters on the wall? Of what?
    • Who is the person sitting closest to you and what is he or she wearing?
    • Are there filing cabinets in the room?
    • How many doors did you pass as you walked down the hall to enter this room?
    The point is, there are hundreds of questions I could ask you about the thousands of aspects of your environment that you have ignored because either:

    a) you have learned that those pieces of information are unimportant, or

    b) you have experienced the same event so many times, such as walking into this room, that you pay absolutely no attention to the details - you do it automatically.

    According to Brazelton, infants' defense against this rush of stimuli is to sleep - and sleep infants do - sixteen hours a day and more. Unfortunately, these sixteen hours do not come in one lump, but are broken up into many naps, interspersed with periods of wakefulness. In our house, the longest one of those periods comes between midnight and 4 a.m. most nights! One reason knowledge of infant states is important is to understand the behavior of normal infants, and to be able to communicate to parents what kind of behavior to expect.

    So, this is another reason that knowledge of infant states is important, so that when we do assess children, for example, testing their reflexes. In fact, Ronda was incorrect in stating that ALL the baby could do was sleep, cry and emit bodily fluids. In fact, babies are typically born with many reflexes. Testing these reflexes allows you to know whether an infant is functioning normally or not. If a child does not show many of the expected reflexes, it is a signal that something is wrong. Without further testing, it is impossible to say whether that something is physical (involving the muscles) or neurological (involving the brain and/or central nervous system).

     Click here for a site that explains infant reflexes

    Next Arrow Next page: Identifying parents who are at-risk for abusing their infants.

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