How to make your baby thrive

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We all know a baby’s first year of life is important, but what we didn’t realise is that it could determine how tall our little ones become later in life.

New research has found that genetics may not be the only factor in determining how tall we grow. It’s being suggested that our genes may actually account for just 50% of our eventual height, with the other 50 per cent being credited to a baby’s development in utero and during their first year of life.

The study says that during that important first year, environmental conditions such as nutrition, social interactions and family life can influence a person’s height. It all links with evolutionary theories: if you’re body isn’t well nourished, it instinctively stays shorter so that it requires less food during your life.

While this news is intriguing, let’s face it: the last thing you’re probably thinking of during your baby’s first year is how tall he or she will grow. It’s likely you’re too busy trying to get through the days, adjusting to life as a parent and doing the best you can.

In that first year the focus – between you and your health professionals – is on helping your baby to thrive in their development and growth. We want our babies to be as healthy and happy as possible for a number of reasons, and we’re now learning that those reasons could be wider reaching than we previously thought.

Dr Julie Green, executive director of Raising Children Network, says the good news is that babies thrive on the very thing you’re in the best position to give them.

 “A key to a baby thriving in the first year and beyond is having a loving relationship with their parents and family,” Dr Green explains. “This is the most important part of a child’s environment. The relationships that children have with those around them shape the way they see the world; they affect all areas of their development.”

A baby learns a lot during infancy, and our role is to help them to do just that. Dr Green says, “Tuning in to your child, and responding with gentleness, warmth lays the foundations for children’s development. They help shape the adult the child will become.” She adds that our interactions send a strong message: “What children get back from a parent or an adult around them gives them really important information about what the world is like and how to be in the world. By communicating back and forth with children, you’re creating and sharing experiences together. This strengthens relationships and helps children learn more about the world.”

During that all important first year, the learning curve into life as a parent can be a steep one and sometimes it’s all we can do to just get through. But, while you may not be concerned about how tall your baby will grow, it’s interesting to think that the foundations you’re laying during their babyhood will help lead the way into their future in many different ways.

Dr Green reiterates that your main role in these early days is to help your baby thrive through just being you. “In the first year, a child’s main way of learning and developing well is through play, watching other people and exploring,” she says. “Time spent with your baby in that first year sends a simple message that they are important to you.”