Critical Review

Six Components of the First Year of Human Life

The first year of life in humans is full of learning experiences. Babies learn to love, crawl, walk, and speak, all while growing and developing as they eat and sleep. Their bodies and brains grow at incredible rates and they have no choice but to learn from all of their experiences. However, some of their development is already biologically programmed within them.

The importance of early and secure bonding for babies cannot be understated. There is not a lot of research, however, on the bonding between fathers and their children, as it is more popular to study the maternal bond. To give more insight into paternal bonding, a study was done and the results indicated that men with lower basal testosterone (T) have better relationships with their children and are more involved in childcare (Weisman et. al., 2014). The study involved fathers ingesting oxytocin and observing their interactions with their children. Fathers with lower basal T had a greater T increase after oxytocin administration and had “greater social–behavioral reciprocity between father and infant, indicating greater investment in the parenting context” (Weisman et. al., 2014). Therefore, oxytocin supports father-infant bonding as it does in mothers, and it does so even more effectively in men who may be more likely to be more involved in childcare in the first place. Breastfeeding is one method of promoting close bonding between mothers and babies, and allows for ‘communication’ between them in the form of components in milk. One source explains how components of breastmilk such as protein and oligosaccharides provide protection for babies against disease (Oddy, 2001). The author uses evidence of protection against illness from breastfeeding in order to assert, “it is now clear that human milk is precisely engineered for the human infant” (Oddy, 2001). Therefore, breast milk is more than food; it is a method of individualized protection and signaling between a mother and her baby.

Along with close parental bonds and proper nutrition, babies rely on sleep in order to learn and become healthy children. One study offers data which demonstrate the importance of infant sleep for the formation of memory (Lukowski and Milojevich, 2013). The main results indicated that there was a positive correlation with the amount of time spent napping and the ability of babies to remember tasks (Lukowski and Milojevich, 2013). The study also showed it was better for the babies to sleep more in naps than to sleep more at night in order to have higher scores on the memory tests. Therefore, the study reaffirms the importance of sleep in solidifying memory and emphasizes the importance of napping for infants around the age of 10 months.

Without ample sleep, a baby’s memory for words and language would be impaired. Modern guidance recommends parents to speak with their infants as much as possible and to enter into “conversations.” In an article which describes the results of studies about Infant-Directed Speech or Baby Talk, the authors write that “language learning is therefore powered by the shared social relationship between infants and caregivers” and “infants’ active participation in the conversation and maternal responsiveness to that participation” are “key elements in the acquisition process” (Golinkoff et. al., 2015). Infants learn through practice, and though they do not speak words, they are building the foundations for future speech.

The expected stages of infant movement progress from random limb movement, to crawling, then to independent walking. There is evidence that crawling is not entirely critical to human development as some babies decide to start walking without crawling. This phenomenon is seen in the Ache people of Paraguay, whose babies are not encouraged to crawl, instead skipping directly to walking (Kuther, 2020). In a memoir on her medical practice, Dr. Jacalyn Duffin describes her research with babies and uses evidence from studies to show that modern babies’ developmental trajectory may have been changed by placing them on their backs in order to prevent SIDS (Duffin, 2005). In a study started in 1990, it was discovered “as parents uniformly began putting babies on their backs, more and more babies did not roll over or crawl on schedule, and increasing numbers never crawled” (Duffin, 2005). Therefore, babies are not required to crawl to walk, and public health measures can affect how babies start to move. In Babies, Dr. Nadia Dominici researches whether babies are born with an innate ability to walk, or if newborn stepping is a fluke and then forgotten on the way to independent walking (Netflix, 2020). Having an innate ability to walk from a young age would indicate that walking is a trait passed down through our genes from human ancestors who transitioned to bipedalism. To support Dr. Dominici’s theory that newborn stepping and independent walking are related, work by Karen Adolph and Scott Robinson details that babies seem to lose their newborn stepping ability as “infants’ legs increase in mass faster than they increase in strength” (Adolph and Robinson). The babies are therefore unable to continue stepping as their legs are too heavy. Eventually, their strength catches up with their mass and they are able to transition to independent walking, indicating that they would continue stepping if their legs did not become so heavy after the first few months (Adolph and Robinson).

It is clear that the first year of a baby’s life is not entirely understood and that many researchers are currently devoting their efforts to studying the development and growth of babies. Babies form secure attachments with parents other than their mother, consume individualized and protective breast milk, and need naps to learn. They learn language better when spoken to, do not need to crawl before they walk, and have an innate ability to walk from the time they are born, although it is not fully developed until they reach almost a year of age. Babies are complex and mysterious beings and cannot properly communicate their experiences of the world to their parents, which creates a scientific fascination with them.