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Growing Strong: The 5 Essential Factors Your Baby Needs to Thrive

Learn how to provide the “T-Factors” for your baby

Published on: June 12, 2024

Cute baby on the floor smiling five factors for baby to thrive
Photo: iStock

What if you knew exactly what you needed to do to support your child’s development? What if you had the secret to making sure their development is optimal? Well, very recent scientific results say that it is possible to know exactly what it takes to facilitate every infant’s ability to thrive in the early years of life.

The study, by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, involved 232 newborns who were assessed at birth and then at ages 2 and 3. The researchers looked at how positive factors during pregnancy and the first year of life affected the babies’ development.

This study took a new approach by evaluating the thriving factors — which they called “T-factors” — together rather than individually.

Specifically, they looked at how factors such as environmental stimulation, nutrition, neighborhood safety, positive caregiving and child sleep affected children’s brain development at ages 2 and 3 and language skills at age 3.

The “Thrive 5” factors every child needs to thrive

Here are the elements every child needs to thrive:

1) Environmental stimulation

There is now evidence that stimulating babies is critical to their overall development and well-being. The infant years are important because they lay the foundation for your baby’s future cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. The stimulation babies receive at this age helps to strengthen important skills such as sensory, motor and visual discrimination.

The good news is that there are many simple things you can do to provide this much-needed stimulation, including:

  • Talk to your baby as often as possible to help them develop language skills.
  • Read stories and show pictures. Your 3-month-old will enjoy looking at black-and-white pictures, and then at colorful and bold pictures at 6 months.
  • Play simple games such as peek-a-boo.
  • Give your child age-appropriate toys to play with, and vary toys and textures to help them explore different senses.
  • Sing.
  • Provide plenty of time for tummy time.
  • Give them a safe space to play and practice different skills.
"moms with baby in a bed giving positive environment five factors baby need to thrive"
A stimulating environment is important for babies to thrive. Photo: iStock

2) Nutrition

Both WHO and UNICEF recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, but this is not an option for everyone, and that’s okay. The most important thing is to make sure your child is getting the right (quality and quantity) food for his or her age and needs.

"dad feeding his son five factors for babies to thrive"
Make sure baby has the nutrition they need to thrive. Photo: iStock

3) Neighborhood safety

Research suggests that the safer parents feel their neighborhood is, the more likely their children are to thrive.

But not everyone gets to choose where they live. Even if you don’t live in your ideal neighborhood, it is possible to feel good about your child’s safety inside your home by babyproofing and allowing them to explore freely. Some of the most common safety measures include using safety gates, preventing access to dangerous objects, using plastic plug covers on electrical outlets, padding sharp edges on furniture and using door stops and cabinet latches. 

Babies also need emotional safety to thrive, and in the early years, this can be achieved by being attentive and responsive to your baby’s emotional cues to make them feel safe and secure. 

"baby standing next to a baby gate five factors for baby to thrive"
A safe environment is important for babies to thrive. Photo: iStock

4) Positive caregiving

Positive caregiving is about being sensitive to your child’s needs and responding to their cues. It means being warm and responsive and strengthening the parent-child bond through simple things such as regular hugs, cuddles, smiles and caresses.

"mom providing positive caregiving five factors for baby to thrive"
Positive caregiving helps babies thrive. Photo: iStock

5) Infant sleep

The amount and quality of sleep infants get affects their overall well-being. Providing the right environment will help them establish the regular sleep patterns they need to thrive.

Some strategies, such as using swaddling or white noise, making your baby comfortable, and providing an environment that is conducive to sleep, can make it easier for them to get the sleep they need.

The researchers who conducted the “T-factors” study found that children’s development is greatly influenced by their psychosocial environment, and that children who grew up in an environment where these factors were present had healthier development. In other words, even in adverse situations, these factors help improve children’s brain, cognitive and social-emotional development and set the stage for lifelong success.

"baby sleeping five factors baby needs to thrive"
Sleep is vital for babies (and parents!) to thrive. Photo: iStock

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