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Human growth and development-Conception to Birth

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This is the very first stage of the making of a human baby which is known as conception. This is when the sex cell or (gamete) from the males sperm and a

gamete from the woman’s ovum or egg cell join to form the embryo.Conception can only occur during ovulation, which happens about the middle of the month between menstrual periods.

The human baby’s life begins as a single cell which is formed when the sperm and egg cell join and the egg becomes fertilised, creating life. The fertilised egg (zygote) divides into two and continues to do so rapidly, at this stage some cells form the embryo and some of the placenta. These cells now resemble a mulberry, are called morulla and take about 4 days to travel along the fallopian tube and into the uterus. This point it is called a blastocyst.

The blastocyst now gets attached to the uterus wall by tiny projections called villi. Once it attached to the uterus it connects to the blood stream, so it is able to absorb oxygen and essential nutrients for fast growth. Around 10 to 14 days after conception the baby is called an embryo.

After conception and the embryo is formed development of it begins into a full term foetus. The 3 stages of development are known as trimesters.

First trimester

  • ‘Week 3(embryonic stage) - first period missed.
  • Foundation of the brain and nervous system is laid down
  • Amnion sac is formed around the embryo, which floats in a liquid (the amniotic fluid).
  • The placenta is formed, which lies against the uterus wall and acts as the liver, lungs and kidneys for the embryo and the foetus. The placenta is connected to the embryo’s circulatory system by the umbilical cord. Nutrients pass through to the embryo and digestive waste products and CO2 pass from the baby to the mother.’(Btec national early years, Penny tassoni)
  • Week 4 – the neural tube closes( if this does not close spina bifida occurs)The embryo is around 6.4mm in length
  • Week 5 – the baby’s heart be can be detected and the embryo is now the same size as a small seed.
  • Week 8 – the embryo is about 8mm long, and has developed the startle reflex. The formation of the eyes, ears, organs and limb buds is at a rudimentary stage.
  • Foetal stage (week 12) – the baby is now called a foetus and all its body parts have grown they just need to be refined. The foetus can swallow, roll, somersault and has also developed the sucking reflex. The foetus organs are functioning it measures about 7.5cm and has downy hair and fingernails.

Second trimester

  • Week 15 – the foetus hears its first sounds
  • Week 16- the genitals of the foetus have formed. From this stage the sex of the baby can be determined all though difficult. A greasy wax substance covers the baby’s skin, this is called vernix.
  • Week 20- the baby weighs around 460g and babies born at this stage have a very low chance of survival.
  • Week 22- baby can dream and feel emotions. It develops reflex to root and grasp, their bones harden and their body grows.
  • Week 24- if born at this stage has a reasonable chance of survival with intensive care as lungs are not yet fully developed. The eyes open for the first time.
  • Week 27- is very active e.g. kicking and moving around, and weighs around 500g and is 33cms long.

Third trimester

  • Weeks 28-32- the foetus rapidly grows to about 1700g and is about 35cm long. Developing brain able to process information more and respond to it, like recognising voices especially the mothers. Starts to develop waking and sleeping rhythm.
  • Weeks 33-36 – foetus continues to grow and gains bout 280g a week! Brain develops rapidly and head grows more to allow this. Fine hair covering body disappears. The foetus can now swallow, make breathing movements and urinate. Glycogen forms in liver for energy during birth and soon afterwards. Also the head engages in the pelvis for 1st pregnancies otherwise may not be until labour.
  • Weeks 37-40- amount of amniotic fluid reduces and foetus grows to fill amniotic sac. Foetus is about 3kg and its head is lying down. Birth may take place between weeks 38 and 42.

Now that the baby is born, some dramatic changes will take place in all areas of their growth and development, during its first year of life. Below is a month by month guide to how babies grow and develop up until the age of 1 year.

  • 0-1 months- babies express emotion mainly by crying, grimacing, or displaying a bright and alert face. Babies are very open to learning at around 3 to 6 weeks they develop different crying sounds for different needs e.g. hunger. Babies have reflexes which help them to survive and as they start to fade their movements become more deliberate and controlled. E.g. the walking reflex disappears after the first few weeks and they learn to walk at around 12 months. It is important to interact with babies as they gain a lot from it, especially with their family or carers.
  • 1 month- most babies lift their heads, respond to sounds, and stare at faces. Some babies may also be able to; follow objects, ohh and ahh, and can see black and white patterns. Their arms are very active and constantly moving although they do not have much control over them. At this age babies start to recognise their carers face and voice and they become settled if they hear, smell, feel or see their parent or carer. Between now and 2 months of age babies communicate by cooing and use of gestures, this shows their skill to “take turns” in conversation.
  • 2 months – at this age babies are on their way to realising that they and their carer are separate beings. Babies can hold up head for short periods and they will also follow objects. Babies show a variety of emotions (e.g. hunger) via their facial expressions, arm, leg and finger movements.
  • 3 months- Babies can hold their head up and may roll over when placed on tummy and they will also begin to wave and kick their arms as their muscles are strengthening. Babies will watch their own hands, will press them together and clasp hands together in finger play.

   They begin to eat and sleep more regularly, respond to voices, smile at

    faces become more alert and look around for longer, cry and vocalize      


  • 4 months- at this age babies can hold their head up and put weight on their legs as muscles strengthen. Around now babies develop vowel sounds and then their first consonants sounds are heard, which are learnt through self exploration (this is also know as babbling and usually occurs when babies are alone). Babies at 4 months begin to develop their self image which helps them over the coming months discover the kind of person they are as well as what they can do.
  • 5 months- babies can distinguish between bold colours, roll over, and amuse themselves by playing with hands and feet. They enjoy listening to music, looking at speaker’s lips and mouth to show that they enjoy listening to speech. Babies will show a clear preference for a loved one. Their primitive squeeze appears but their hand movement is uncontrolled therefore finds it difficult to let go of objects. Also they enjoy practising dropping and throwing e.g. toys.
  • 6 months- up until now babies gain an average of 0.5oz (14.2g) to 1oz (28.4g) every day! The babies coo and smiling now proceeds to babbling and chuckling. Between now and 10 months babies will babble (add on consonants and make strings of sound e.g. dah dah dah). Babies’ opportunity to play increases, especially when encouraged by an interested adult. Encouragement to interact and play promotes positive self image. By now most babies have learned all the basic and distinct sounds of their native language.
  • Babies of this age will also: reach out for things and grasp them, sleep in a favourite position, get their first teeth, laugh and squeal, shows pleasure and displeasure through sounds, looks carefully at things they see, recognises carer best may be afraid of others.
  • 7 months- they can sit without support, reach for objects with a sweeping motion and imitate speech sounds. Babies of this age are aware of their emotions or feelings and start to realise that others have emotional responses linked to their interactions; they also begin to develop their understanding that they exist separate to others.
  • 8 months- babies of this age can say “dada” and “mama” to both parents (they aren’t specific), begin to crawl and pass objects from hand to hand. Words begin to have some meaning and they form a clear image that those around them are important.
  • 9 months- babies learn hand eye co-ordination to pick up small objects. They handle objects with enthusiasm e.g. passing from one hand to the other. Develops early pincer grip. Babies of this age should be able to combine syllables into word like sounds, stand while holding onto something, sit unsupported for up to a minute, imitate sounds, watch others, feed self, hold bottle, be shy with strangers, smile at own face, and respond to own name.
  • Babies communication becomes increasingly intentional, they may show object as a way to communicate which paves the way for pointing. They begin to understand familiar names of people and objects, and babbling is in longer strings (“bababa mamama”)
  • 10 months- babies begin to respond to simple commands such as “up you come”. They are able to wave goodbye, pick things up with developed pincer grasp, crawl well, and cruise. Babies of this age can tell the difference between their own regional accent and foreign ones, and understands her name.
  • 11 months- can say “dada” and “mama” to the right parent (is specific), plays patty-cake, stands alone for a couple of seconds, can climb upstairs, can scribble with crayons. At this age babies will begin to speak in “gibberish” while making a few clear sounds. It is at this age that social skills advance. Imitation also starts, where they love to copy but they learn through doing so.
  • 12 months- at this age babies become more capable of doing things themselves, being independent and more open to things around them. They pick up small objects e.g. crumbs with a confident pincer grip; they use both hands freely but may show preference for one. Children are now aware of themselves as people in their own right. Sometimes this is shown in negative ways of strong will e.g. throwing a tantrum to get required attention. Their first words are linked to familiar things e.g. ‘daddy’, ‘car’.
  • Babies will begin to imitate others activities, jabber word like sounds, indicate wants with gestures. The birth weight will have tripled by this age, and most will have grown a total of around 10 inches in length since birth. Most babies are able to: sit steady for 10 minutes, pull self to a standing position, crawl on hands and knees, understand “no no”, says two words, become more confident with strangers, show emotions e.g. affection, likes to be with adults, cooperates in dressing, and turns pages in books.
  • First single words are spoken in a child’s version e.g. “du” for duck. Will understand names of people and objects in a normal context. Will begin to shake head for “no” and try to “sing” to music.

Human growth and development

Laura Wilson 04/04/2007

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