The baby’s development and importance of stimulation during the first year of life

Why it is Important in nowadays societies? All parents want their infant to develop to their maximum potential. Now a day’s advanced perinatal care have improved chances of survival of newborns who would otherwise have succumbed. These survivors are identified with problems later on. Often such problems are identified quite late, may be at school age, when only some rehabilitation measures can be taken which do not necessarily bring out the best in the child.  Parents are adapting small family norms and every child is precious and they want a high degree of quality in their child. Planned and highly-individualistic intervention programs after a detailed developmental assessment is the answer to this.

There is nothing more important to developing children than exposure to a stimulation environment.

A stimulating environment is one that offers children many interesting things to do, see, hear and touch.

It is the parents’ role to provide a stimulating environment for their children.

During the first year of life, the amount of positive contact parents have with their babies will affect their physical, emotional, social and intellectual development.

Parents who provide a stimulating environment for their children are letting them know that they are important.

  • Play stimulation: Play stimulates infants to use their bodies and senses. It helps develop thinking and intelligence. The most important part though, is fun. Play has to be fun for both infants and parents, or neither will want to take part. 
  • Babies seek stimulation from their environment. Just about any activity can be stimulating. For example, simply changing a diaper stimulates the sense of touch.
  • Talk with babies face to face: parents who talk with babies face to face stimulate both the senses of hearing and sight (keep in mind: babies study the faces of people who speak to them).
  • Many everyday activities are stimulating to infants. Parents can stimulate their infants in more specific ways.
  • Provide love. Loving a baby comes naturally to almost all parents. Nothing will help babies grow and thrive more than simple love and acceptance from their parents.
  • Interact with your baby. Parents should take every opportunity to talk and sing to their babies. There are many opportunities in any given day for parents to interact with their infants. Parents can talk or sing to their babies while changing the diaper , giving a bath, shopping for groceries or driving in the car. The goal is for parents to be involved with and communicate with their babies.
  • Stimulation must be appropriate for each baby’s level of development. If parents go too far over their babies’ heads, they will likely frustrate both their children and themselves. To provide the right type of stimulation, parents must know their children’s present level of development. For example, if parents notice that their children are beginning to learn how to roll over from the back to the stomach, they can stimulate this developing skill by placing and object at their babies’ side just out of reach.
  • Their babies will then have to roll over to get the object. The key is for parents to know that new skills their babies are working on and then to direct play to stimulate these developing skills.

Vision: The sense of vision develops rapidly during the first six months of life. At birth vision is blurred, but by the end of the first month, infants will be able to see faces and district patterns. Intellectual development and learning begin with eye contact and visual tracking.

Visual tracking is the ability of babies to follow moving objects with their eyes. Thus stimulation of the sense of sight is very important for infants. During the first month, most babies learn to focus on objects at a distance of 8-10 inches. At one month of age, babies are usually able to follow objects with their eyes. This new skill will get progressively better in the coming months. Between four and six months most babies gradually become able to focus on objects at any distance. They will also, follow any moving object that catches their attention.

  • Contrasts and colors: When choosing toys for babies and decorating babies’ rooms, parents should keep in mind that babies like sharp contrasts and brights bold colors (especially red).
  • A Mobile: Hang mobiles no more than 12 inches over babies’ faces. Parents should make sure that their babies can see the figures on the mobile from their perspective. Most babies prefer to gaze to one side or the other instead of straight up. So, parents should find out their babies’ favorite gaze direction and hang the mobile to that side of the crib.
  • Babies spend a lot of time looking at things around them. Parents should make sure their babies have a lot of interesting objects to look at. Parents can show their babies geometric patterns, hand-drawn faces, or anything they think might be interesting to their babies.
  • Mirrors: Most babies love to look themselves and others in a mirror. Parents should make sure the mirror is a safe, metal baby mirror.
  • Books: Parents can show their babies pictures in books. Babies prefer simple, bold-colored drawings without a lot of extra detail.
  • People: Babies love to look at faces close-up. Parents should spend lots of time up close to their babies. They should also encourage other family members to do the same.
  • The human voice: This is the most important sound in every baby’s life. Parents should let their babies hear their voices often. They should talk and sing to their babies every chance they get. Parents can also try imitating the sounds their babies make. This will encourage babies to make the sounds again. Parents can use their voices, also, to imitate sounds their babies regularly hear, such as a cat, a dog, or a bird or any other toy that makes sound.
  • A rattle: Parents should make sure that the sound the toy makes is not upsetting to their babies, or too loud. Parents can try shaking a rattle or ringing a small bell behind their babies. At first babies may startle at new sounds, but they will soon begin to turn their heads toward the sounds they hear.
  • Music boxes and musical toys: Infants will quickly learn to recognize specific tunes.
  • Records and tapes: Babies enjoy listening to children’s tapes and other kinds of music. Parents should try many different types of music. Parents can observe their babies to determine their favorites.
  • Touch: There is no better way for parents to show love for their babies than to provide close, loving, physical contact. Babies need close physical contact with their parents to thrive. It is especially important that parents hold and cuddle their babies as much as possible. When babies achieve adequate head control, parents can try caring them in a carrier pack as they do household chores. Changing diapers and bathing babies are activities that stimulate babies touch.
  • Providing adequate health care and proper nutrition are two very important things parents can do for their babies to enhance gross motor (big muscle) development. Adequate health care includes well-child checkups as well as sick-child care.
  • The movements of newborn babies are mostly random and reflexive in nature. As their babies grow, parents will notice more and more deliberate movement from their babies.
  • One of the best things parents can do for their babies to promote gross motor development is to give their babies the space to move.
  • While your babies are lying on their back, you can slowly and gently pull them by the arms into a sitting position. This exercise will encourage head and neck control.
  • Prop in a sitting position: Parents can prop their babies in a sitting position. This will also encourage head control and neck muscle strength. Make sure, though, that the head and neck are supported. Most babies do not have full head control until about six months of age.
  • To encourage rolling over, parents can put an interesting object to the side of their babies while they are lying on their backs.
  • To encourage creeping, parents can let their babies push off against their hands while lying on their stomachs.
  • Parents can hold an interesting object just out of reach in front of their babies, but off to one side. This will encourage eye/hand coordination as babies reach for the object. Hanging objects within reach above the crib will also stimulate eye/hand coordination.

Basic Facts All Parents Need to Know In the first years of a baby’s life, the brain is busy building its wiring system. Activity in the brain creates tiny electrical connections called synapses. The amount of stimulation the baby receives has a direct effect on how many synapses are formed.

Repetitive stimulation strengthens these connections and makes them permanent, whereas young connections that don’t used eventually die out. These first years are a very important and pivotal time for a developing young brain. This intense period of brain growth and network building happens only once in a lifetime. Parents have brief but golden opportunity to help our babies stimulate the formation of brain circuitry.

Further reading

Jin X., Sun, Y., Jiang, F., Ma, J., Morgan, C., & Shen, X. (2007). Care for Development Intervention in rural China: A prospective follow-up study. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Paediatrics, 28.

Kagitcibasi, C., Sunar, D., & Bekman, S. (2001). Long-term effects of early intervention: Turkish low-income mothers and children. Applied Developmental Psychology.

Meeks-Gardner, J., Grantham-McGregor, S., Himes, J., & Chang, S. (1999). Behavior and development of stunted and non-stunted Jamaican children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Mora, J., Clement, J., Christiansen, N., Ortiz, N., Vuori, L., & Wagner, M. (1979). Nutritional supplementation, early stimulation and child development. In: Brozek J (Ed.) Behavioral effects of energy and protein deficits. DHEW Pub. no. (NIH)

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