Safety Practices

Tips for Keeping Children Safe: A Developmental Guide - Young Infants

Infants depend on their caregivers for food, warmth, and care, and for meeting such basic needs as eating, diapering, sleeping, and bonding. But all babies are unique. Some infants may settle easily and be capable of quickly soothing themselves. Others may cry often or for long periods of time. In order to thrive, infants need nurturing, consistent, caring, and responsive caregivers. A caregiver develops a responsive relationship with an infant by responding to the baby's cries, coos, and other communication attempts and providing what the infant needs. Responsive caregiving or relationships is at the heart of young children's development. The architecture of their brain is literally shaped by every single experience they have.

During the first months of life, a young infant's neck is not strong enough to support the weight of his or her head. Infant caregivers support a baby's early movements by gently holding and positioning the infant's body, head, and neck to prevent injury. Caregivers also provide a safe space for young infants to participate in supervised "tummy time." This gives them a chance to build the muscles they need to hold up their neck, control the movement of their arms and legs, roll over (4–6 months), sit up (7–9 months), and eventually get ready for crawling, cruising, and walking. Young infants also begin to roll over and sometimes move in unexpected ways. Caregivers need to supervise them closely to prevent falls, the leading cause of unintentional, nonfatal injury among all children ages birth to 5. In addition, they begin to grasp objects and need to have access to materials that are safe so that there is no risk of choking.

Infants' feeding skills evolve as they mature. At first they are only able to suck and swallow liquids. Over time, they gain more control of their tongue and mouth, which allows them to begin to eat pureed and strained food from a spoon. Caregivers talk with families to determine what foods and feeding styles best meet the needs of their child, and they observe infants carefully when feeding them. Conversations about food are respectful of the family's culture and food traditions, and support safe and culturally responsive feeding practices.

Young infants are constantly reacting to the world around them. Brightly colored objects, toys that make noises, and soothing music may stimulate or calm babies. Caregivers observe their reaction to different types and levels of stimulation—through sights, sounds, and touch—and respond by providing a nurturing and safe environment with enough stimulation to meet each child's needs and interests. "Remember with all babies—timing and match are important! (Your) job . . . is to recognize (a) baby's natural tendencies, meet her where she is at, and then provide the external support she needs to handle the stimulation that is naturally at the heart of everyday interactions with her caregivers and the world around her."1

1Gouley, K. K. (n.d.). Stimulation and development during Infancy: Tuning in to your baby's cues. Retrieved from The Child Study Center of the NYU Langone Medical Center website:
Stimulation and Development During Infancy: Tuning in to Your Baby's Cues