Five Basic Needs of Infants and Toddlers

By Kathryn Walsh
Mother and father with newborn baby in hospital.
Mother and father with newborn baby in hospital.

From a helpless newborn to an active toddler, your child covers a great deal of developmental ground in the first few years of life. Encouraging and supporting his growth is a big job, and it can feel overwhelming. Focus on tending to his five biggest needs first -- and take pride in the fact that you're probably already meeting them.

Adequate Sleep

Mother putting young baby to sleep in crib.
Mother putting young baby to sleep in crib.

Sleep is crucial for a young child's development. By 2 years old, the typical child will have spent more than half his life asleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). A newborn needs anywhere from 10 1/2 to 19 hours of sleep every 24 hours, consisting of chunks of sleep lasting from a few minutes to several hours, advises the NSF. An older infant may sleep between nine and 12 hours each night and take several naps during the day. Between the ages of 1 and 3, a child typically needs 12 to 14 hours of sleep per day, including one or two naps.

Nutritious Food

Young toddler girl using a spoon to eat cereal.
Young toddler girl using a spoon to eat cereal.

During the first six months of life, a baby's nutritional needs are best met through breastfeeding or, if breastfeeding isn't an option, formula. She will need to eat every few hours as a newborn and then gradually less frequently. Introduce solid foods when she can hold her head up and can move food from a spoon into her throat, according to HealthyChildren, but continue feeding her breast milk or formula until at least 12 months. A toddler requires between 1,000 and 1,400 calories per day, made up of the same food groups you require, advises KidsHealth. Toddlers are at risk for iron deficiency and should be served iron-rich foods such as fortified cereal.

Security and Protection

Young child getting vaccinated.
Young child getting vaccinated.

In order for a young child to grow and explore safely, he needs a safe environment. His home should have sturdy baby gates at the top of each staircase and childproof locks on cabinets. Weapons and choking hazards such as window cords must always be kept out of reach. A baby needs a crib free of pillows, stuffed animals and other suffocation risks. Infants and toddlers also need regular medical care, including vaccinations to protect them from illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children receive 10 different types of immunizations before they are 23 months old.

Sensory Stimulation

Young baby crawling on wood floor.
Young baby crawling on wood floor.

Though your infant may not appear to do much as she sits in her car seat, she's constantly learning. The "wiring system" of your baby's brain is forming during this period, explains the California Childcare Health Program, and stimulation is how the brain makes and strengthens connections. Your child needs to touch different textures, smell and taste new things, hear music and voices and see new sights in order to learn and understand the world. She also needs to be allowed to crawl, walk, run and climb in order to build physical strength.

Strong Bonds

Young baby snuggling with mother.
Young baby snuggling with mother.

Your child needs to feel strongly bonded to his primary caregiver in order to feel secure. Having that bond can also positively affect a young child's self-esteem and social and cognitive development, according to KidsHealth. Making eye contact, snuggling and speaking to your child with a calm and loving voice will strengthen your bond. Responding quickly to his signals -- such as picking him up when he starts to cry -- will also show him that he can depend on you.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.