Infants vary widely in their growth patterns, and it is not wise to compare one infant with another; yet, there is some value in being familiar with typical patterns of development and growth. On the average, infants gain 140 to 225 gm (5 to 8 oz) per week during the first five months, and double their birth weight in this time. For the remainder of the year the weight increase is about 110 to 140 gm (4 to 5 oz) per week; the birth weight is tripled by the age of 10 to 12 months. The initial height of 50 to 55 cm (20 to 22 in.) has increased to 75 cm (30 in.) or more by the end of the first year.
The body content of water at birth is high and that of fat is low. The relative lack of subcutaneous fat and the proportionately high surface area explain why additional precautions must be taken to keep infants warm. The bones are comparatively soft in the newborn baby, but they continue to add mineral substance throughout childhood and adolescence. Teeth begin to erupt at five to six months. By the end of the year the infant will have five to ten teeth.
The baby is born with a large head and short arms and legs. In the first years of life the nervous system continues to develop rapidly so that the brain will have reached 90 per cent of adult size at the age of four years. Severe malnutrition during pregnancy and the first months of life leads to inadequate development of the central nervous system, and the poorly nourished infant and child may never reach his full mental potential.
The newborn infant’s stomach has a capacity of about 30 ml, and at one year can hold about 240 ml. The ability to digest protein, simple sugars, and emulsified fats is present at birth in the full-term infant. During the early months of life the production of amylase and lipase increases so that starchy foods and fats may be gradually included.
The kidneys achieve their full functional capacity by the end of the first year. Young infants are unable to excrete high concentrations of waste that might occur if undiluted cow’s milk were fed or if the intake of fluid is inadequate.
Normal infants have a hemoglobin level of 17 to 20 gm per 100 ml. This high level protects against anemia until the iron intake is adequate from the diet.
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