Skip to main content
Biology LibreTexts

23: Human Growth and Development

  • Page ID
  • This chapter describes how the human organism grows and develops from fertilization through death. The following stages of life are described in detail: germinal stage, embryonic stage, fetal stage, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

    • 23.1: Case Study - How Our Bodies Change Throughout Life
      Instead of using a phone to make a call, this infant is using it for a purpose more suited to his current stage of life - to relieve the pain of teething. While this may look cute, the tendency that infants and young children have of putting objects in their mouths makes them particularly vulnerable to being exposed to toxic substances in their environment that can seriously - and sometimes permanently - damage their health.
    • 23.2: Germinal Stage
      The germinal stage of development is the first and shortest of the stages of the human lifespan. The main events in this stage of development are illustrated in the figure below and described in detail in the rest of this concept. The germinal stage lasts a total of eight to nine days. It begins in a Fallopian tube when an ovum is fertilized by a sperm to form a zygote (day 0). The germinal stage continues as the zygote undergoes several initial cell divisions to a morula.
    • 23.3: Embryonic Stage
      In many cultures, marriage - along with birth and death - is considered the most pivotal life event. For pioneering developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert, however, these life events are overrated. According to Wolpert, "It is not birth, marriage, or death, but gastrulation, which is truly the most important time in your life." Gastrulation is a major biological event that occurs early in the embryonic stage of human development.
    • 23.4: Fetal Stage
      This mother-to-be is holding an ultrasound image of her fetus. She is nearly nine months pregnant, so the fetus is fully developed and almost ready to be born. The fetus has grown tremendously and changed in many other ways since it was a tiny embryo seven months previously.
    • 23.5: Infancy
      Infancy refers to the first year of life after birth, and an infant is defined as a human being between birth and the first birthday. The term baby is usually considered synonymous with infant, although it is commonly applied to the young of other animals, as well as humans. Human infants seem weak and helpless at birth, but they are actually born with a surprising range of abilities. Most of their senses are quite well developed, and they can also communicate their needs by crying.
    • 23.6: Childhood
      Legally, childhood is defined as the period of minority, which lasts from birth until adulthood (majority). The age of majority varies by place and purpose. For example, in the United States, at age 18, you are considered an adult for military service, but a minor for buying alcohol. Biologically, childhood is defined as the stage of a human organism between birth and adolescence.
    • 23.7: Adolescence and Puberty
      Adolescence is the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. It is generally considered to start with puberty, during which sexual maturation occurs and adolescents go through a spurt in growth. In many children, however, puberty actually begins during the stage called pre-adolescence, which covers the ages 11 to 12 years. Puberty may begin before adolescence, but it usually continues for several years, well into the adolescent stage, which ends during the late teens.
    • 23.8: Adulthood
      This colorful family portrait includes an elderly woman and her young-adult granddaughter from the Hmong ethnic group in Laos. Both grandmother and granddaughter are adults, but they are obviously far apart in age. What ages define the beginning and end of adulthood?
    • 23.9: Case Study Conclusion: Lead Danger and Chapter Summary
      Contaminated water is just one source of possible lead exposure. There are many other sources, and one of the most common is lead-based paint. Lead-based paint was banned by the U.S. government for use in housing in 1978, but many older homes still have this paint under newer layers, as shown in the graph below. Lead paint and associated dust can be exposed when paint deteriorates, or when renovations occur.

    Thumbnail: Eight-month-old infant; as a common feature eyes are usually larger compared to the face. (CC BY-SA 4.0; Avsararas).​​​​​