Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

4: Physical Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood

  • Page ID
    24616
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Learning Objectives

    After this chapter, you should be able to:

    1. Describe the physical changes that occur during the first two years of life.
    2. Identify common infant reflexes.
    3. Discuss the sleep needs during the first two years of life.
    4. Summarize the sequence of both fine and gross motor skills.
    5. Recognize the developing sensory capacities of infants and toddlers.
    6. Explain how to meet the evolving nutritional needs of infants and toddlers.

    Welcome to the story of development from infancy through toddlerhood; from birth until about two years of age. Researchers have given this part of the life span more attention than any other period, perhaps because changes during this time are so dramatic and so noticeable and perhaps because we have assumed that what happens during these years provides a foundation for one’s life to come. However, it has been argued that the significance of development during these years has been overstated (Bruer, 1999). Nevertheless, this is the period of life that contemporary educators, healthcare providers, and parents have focused on most heavily. We will examine growth and nutrition during infancy, as well as other prominent physical changes that take place during this time.1

    • 4.1: Rapid Physical Changes
      The average newborn in the United States weighs about 7.5 pounds and is about 20 inches in length. After about a 5% weight loss in the first few days, there is a period of rapid growth. By the time an infant is 4 months old, it usually doubles in weight and by one year has tripled its birth weight. By age 2, the weight has quadrupled. The average length at one year is about 26-32 inches.
    • 4.2: Proportions of the Body
      Another dramatic physical change that takes place in the first several years of life is the change in body proportions. The head initially makes up about 50 percent of our entire length when we are developing in the womb. At birth, the head makes up about 25 percent of our length (think about how much of your length would be head if the proportions were still the same!). By age 25 it comprises about 20 percent our length.
    • 4.3: Reflexes
      Infants are equipped with a number of reflexes which are involuntary movements in response to stimulation. These include the sucking reflex (infants suck on objects that touch their lips automatically), the rooting reflex (which involves turning toward any object that touches the cheek), the palmar grasp (infants will tightly grasp any object placed in its palm), and the dancing reflex (when the infant is held in a standing position and moves its feet up and down alternately as if dancing).
    • 4.4: Gross Motor Skills
      Voluntary movements involve the use of large muscle groups and are typically large movements of the arms, legs, head, and torso. They are referred to as gross motor skills (or large motor skills).
    • 4.5: Fine Motor Skills
      More exact movements of the feet, toes, hands, and fingers are fine motor skills (or small motor skills). These include the ability to reach and grasp an object in coordination with vision. Newborns cannot grasp objects voluntarily but do wave their arms toward objects of interest. At about 4 months of age, the infant is able to reach for an object, first with both arms and within a few weeks, with only one arm. Grasping an object involves the use of the fingers and palm, but no thumbs.
    • 4.6: Sensory Capacities
      Throughout much of history, the newborn was considered a passive, disorganized being who possessed minimal abilities. William James, an early psychologist, had described the newborn’s world as “a blooming, buzzing confusion,” (Shaffer, 1985). However, current research techniques have demonstrated just how developed the newborn is with especially organized sensory and perceptual abilities.
    • 4.7: Nutrition
      Nutritional needs change with age. This modules examine how caregivers should nourish children during the first years of life and some risks to nutrition that they should be aware of.
    • 4.8: Health
      Infants depend on the adults that care for them to promote and protect their health. The following section addresses common physical conditions that can affect infants, the danger of shaking babies, and the importance of immunizations.
    • 4.9: Sleep
      A newborn typically sleeps approximately 16.5 hours per 24-hour period. This is usually polyphasic sleep in that the infant is accumulating the 16.5 hours over several sleep periods throughout the day (Salkind, 2005). The infant is averaging 15 hours per 24-hour period by one month, and 14 hours by 6 months. By the time children turn two, they are averaging closer to 10 hours per 24 hours.
    • 4.S: Summary

    Contributors and Attribtions

    1. Lifespan Development - Module 4: Infancy by Lumen Learning references Psyc 200 Lifespan Psychology by Laura Overstreet, licensed under CC BY 4.0

    Thumbnail: www.pexels.com/photo/child-i...n-road-786220/


    4: Physical Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Paris, Ricardo, Raymond, & Johnson.

    • Was this article helpful?