Even when words have very similar definitions, they can carry wildly different connotations. Whether you refer to the “accused” or the “defendant” in a criminal court case could impact how someone interprets what you say. A house may be just a physical building, but you may have more emotional attachment to your home. And that got me thinking about the terminology as it relates to children too.
A baby who is only a few days old can very justifiably be called a newborn, but is it still appropriate to use “newborn” to refer to a one-month-old? How about a four-month-old? At what age should you stop using the term “newborn” to describe that child?
As a new father, it’s natural for me to worry about everything as it comes to the health and well-being of my baby. As a professional writer, it’s natural for me to care about choosing the right words, because I know how powerful words can be.
Is She Still a “Newborn” or Not?
And while these last couple of months have certainly blown by in an absolute whirlwind, I didn’t really consider her to be a “newborn” anymore. Part of this is due to how baby clothing and diapers are labeled.
Clothing goes from “newborn” to “0-3 months,” giving the impression that the “newborn” stage must end well before the three-month mark. Diapers go from “newborn” to “size 1,” with the latter accommodating babies starting at eight pounds. Given the birth weight of most infants, graduating from newborn diapers doesn’t take long at all.
The Collective Wisdom of Mommy, Daddy and Medical Folk
In consulting with some of my fellow parents, the general consensus is that a baby graduates from being a “newborn” at about three months of age. Then, the kid is just a “baby” or an “infant.” That being said, the technical term for a newborn is “neonate” and medical literature defines a neonate as a child less than a month old. That’s the first 28 days after birth, regardless of whether the baby is pre-term, on time or post-term.
So, what this means is that you’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask and under what context. The “newborn” term could be appropriate for between birth and three months of age or it might only be for the first four weeks.
What About Toddlers?
The good news is the terms “baby” and “infant” are largely interchangeable. “Infant” derives from the Latin infans, meaning “unable to speak.” Some definitions say that “baby” and “infant” apply up to one year of age, though others go up to two years.
If we were to follow the “speechless” definition in the strictest sense, then we should stop using “infant” when the child starts speaking. This creates the new problem of defining what “starts speaking” really means. Does baby babble count? Is it when the baby says his or her first word? The term “toddler” might then be introduced, but that describes how they “toddle about” as they learn how to walk and run. It has nothing to do with speech ability.
What are your thoughts? For what age range can you still suitably refer to a baby as a “newborn”? Do you find that “baby” has a softer, cuter connotation than the more scientifically-oriented “infant”? And when do you stop using “baby” and “infant” in favor of “toddler” or “child” instead?