This small, squirming object is a newborn baby. One of the thousands born daily, he resembles every other newborn. Yet deserves attention, for there never has been and never will be another baby exactly like him. It is a brand-new person, different from either of, its parents and something other than a blend of both. This Babykin is unique.
Biologically, however, newborn babies do have common characteristics: Looks top-heavy, and is. The head is remarkably large - almost one quarter the length of its entire body. Most of its weight is concentrated in this big head and in the other disproportionately large part of its body, its abdomen. The reason for the latter is its relatively large liver, which has been storing iron for the next few months when there will not be enough of it in its diet.
The baby’s arms and legs are ridiculously short. Its bones, composed mainly of cartilage, are soft and almost rubbery. Its backbone is so elastic that, if the infant were put in traction, it could be stretched out another couple of centimetres. Its wrist-bones are not even formed. There is an open spot in the skull called the fontanelle, but it is covered by an extremely tough membrane which protects the brain. Its muscles are poorly developed; they haven’t been used much, and are soft and flabby - a condition which the baby sets out to rectify almost immediately by doing an extraordinary amount of squirming.
Its eyes are blue-grey, no matter what colour they are going to be. They will not acquire their individual pigmentation for another 90 days or longer.
The baby’s temperature at birth is slightly higher than normal, and since it’s naked and wet, and since evaporation produces sudden chilling, the baby must be swathed in blankets almost immediately in order to survive. A human baby is, in fact, the most helpless of all newborn creatures.
Yet this baby is considerably tougher than it appears. It has already lived through a good deal. The Chinese system of counting age gives a baby credit at birth for having lived a full year. It considers the nine months of pre-natal life as equivalent to any subsequent 12, and certainly they were as eventful. None of the changes in store for the newborn quite compares with the drama of his development from a single fertilized cell to a well-organized 200,000-million cell individual.
That is the main thing to understand about the baby’s birth: it is not an abrupt beginning. Its heart has been beating, or instance, for more than eight months. The general form and structure of its body took shape some six and a half months ago. After five months of development the baby weighed only half a kilogram, but by then it possessed all the 12,000 million or more nerve cells that make up the human nervous system. The baby could wiggle, stretch, flex its arms and legs, and move its head.
Except for crying, yawning and sneezing, which it can perform for the first time today, the baby has been practising this entire repertoire for months - sometimes with marked vigour, of this its care-giver / mother is well aware. Even though the baby has never breathed air before, its chest has been moving in motions very similar to breathing for the past four months. If the baby is sucking its thumb today, it is probably not for the first time - many babies suck their thumbs before birth. As a result, the baby’s sucking ability is almost always first-rate when it is born.
The newborn baby has to cry within a minute or two after delivery in order to start breathing air. This cry is an emergency gasp, a bellows-like action of its diaphragm which sucks air into its lungs and drives the fluids out of its nose and throat. The noise the baby makes is entirely incidental; its vocal chords just happen to be there, and the air rushing past them sets them in motion.
Before birth, the oxygen it needed reached the baby through its umbilical cord. This was connected to that amazing filtering device, the placenta, which allowed oxygen - together with other things, including glucose, calcium, iron, fatty acids, salt and hormones - to pass by osmosis from its mother’s blood stream into its own and at the same time kept its blood and the mother’s from mixing.
At the moment he was born his blood began following a new route: a bypass in its heart, which would never be needed again, started to close and sent its blood pulsing into its lungs. And the first crying gasp, bringing air into its lungs for the first time, brought oxygen to the place where its blood could pick it up. From its second breath on, the baby’s breathing was under the control of its brain’s respiratory centre. The baby had changed, in a matter of seconds, from an aquatic to an aerific environment. This awe-inspiring moment may be the greatest marvel of human birth.
Now, having established breathing with its first cry, the baby is prepared to cry for a host of other reasons - hunger, followed closely by wet a wet bottom, being the two main ones. Then, as the baby learns that crying brings help, it will start to develop a vocabulary of shrieks, whines and grunts, which its mother / care-giver soon understands, even if no one else does.
Besides crying, the baby can grimace, smile and scowl. But its expressions only seem to have meaning. They are attributable to its rapidly adjusting nervous system; and is simply trying on various faces for size rather than portraying emotion.
The baby also has a number of reflex reactions to discomfort or pain. It can shiver. If it is pinched it will draw away. Put a baby face down and it will turn its head to one side so that it can continue to breathe. The newborn hates to have its head held still or its hands held against its sides; in either case it will struggle with surprising violence to work itself free.
The baby’s strength on such occasions is comparable to its extraordinary grasping ability. Its grip is so strong that if a rod is put into its hand it will grasp it and hold on while it is lifted right off its bed. It may hang from it with a one-hand grasp for as long as 30 seconds. This grasp is a pure reflex; it will disappear in a few months when the baby begins to co-ordinate its hand movements with what it sees.
A newborn can blink its eyes, although it doesn't do so until its eyeball is actually touched. It will take time for this protective reflex to develop to the point of making it blink, as grown-ups do, when somebody makes a threatening motion. Perceiving light is about the best its eyes can do, although within 60 days it will be able to recognize a number of familiar objects.
Probably the first sensations the baby feels, however vaguely, have to do with its sense of touch. But it is the baby’s skin that is sensitive rather than its fingertips. When, after a few weeks, it begins to explore the world around and surrounds, it will start by feeling things with the palms of its hands, not its fingers. As a more reliable method, the baby will try to taste things, for of its five senses taste is the best developed. While it may not distinguish clearly among sweet, sour, salt and bitter, the baby reacts to them – it likes them or it doesn’t - about as emphatically as an adult.
But this newborn baby amounts to much more than all these physical facts. It brings something unique into the world: its heredity; present physically in every cell of its small body in the form of genes. These genes are its inborn endowment, not only from its parents but from all its ancestors back through history. They have determined not only its sex, its size and how much its nose today looks like its mother’s, but they have directed the baby’s development from a single cell - a cell startlingly similar to the first cell of every other creature - into a human being rather than, say, a dog.
Above all, they have established the baby’s unique personality. No matter what its future environmental influences may be, it is the only person in the whole world with exactly this set of genes.
But the most impressive and accurate way of looking at this newborn baby is to consider it as a being in the midst of an almost incomprehensibly rapid process of growth. The baby’s capacity for development is unparalleled. For most of the coming year its rate of learning will be slightly inferior to that of a baby chimpanzee. From then on, however, the contest is over. After age one it will race ahead into a realm where no other creature can follow. Its power to perceive and to act will go on growing for decades, and its power to understand will increase until the day it dies. At the pinnacle of its capabilities its brain will be able not only to assimilate an infinite variety of ideas but to arrange them in patterns and draw conclusions and proceed, perhaps, towards answering the greatest of all questions: “What is Man?”
Oh, how wondrous – GOD is GREAT – indeed awesome! ~SB