This timeline gives information on the key stages in the development of a human.

Please note: The weeks in pregnancy are typically counted from the 1st day of a woman’s last menstrual cycle. This is referred to as gestational age. In this timeline, the dates listed for embryo and foetus are counted from fertilisation. This is referred to as embryonic age.

Human development, prenatal - Fertilisation to birth

The prenatal period is the time between fertilisation and birth. In humans, this is typically 38 weeks.

Fertilisation - Zygote

An egg and sperm fuse and the zygote moves down the mother’s fallopian tubes. It undergoes rapid cell division without increasing in size and becomes a blastocyst. It attaches to the wall of the uterus and becomes embedded in the lining (endometrium).

~1 week - Embryo

The embryo receives nutrients via the placenta and is protected by amniotic fluid. It divides into head and trunk. Brain, spinal column and internal organs begin to develop. At this stage, the embryo is very sensitive to environmental factors such as alcohol and drugs.

~8 weeks - Foetus

The foetal stage lasts from 8 weeks post fertilisation until birth. Organ development continues throughout this period. A foetus is considered full term between 37 and 40 weeks, but some survive from as early as 22–24 weeks with advanced medical technology.

Newborn - Neonate

A period of rapid change. Congenital abnormalities may appear. Nutrition and oxygen no longer come from the umbilical cord but the newborn is still dependent on an adult for nutrition. Able to focus eyesight over a short distance. Head very large in proportion to body.

1 month - Infant

An intense period of development. Key milestones for an infant include raising their head, grasping objects, rolling from stomach to back, sitting unsupported, crawling, making babbling noises, getting first teeth and eating solid foods.

1 year - Toddler

An intense period of development. Key milestones are learning to walk, self-feeding and beginning to use words to communicate.

3 years - Early childhood

An intense period of development. Key milestones include becoming toilet trained, development of both gross motor skills (for example, balancing on 1 foot) and fine motor skills (for example, holding a pencil). Social and behavioural skills develop.

5 years - Childhood

Growing taller and bigger. An important period for cognitive development. Social and behavioural skills develop.

10 years - Prepubescence

This period is often marked by accelerated growth. Puberty may begin towards the later stages.

12 years - Puberty

During this period, most females will begin to menstruate. Males may start to grow facial and body hair, and the pitch of their voice drops. In both sexes, pubic hair appears and genitals and reproductive organs mature.

20 years - Early adulthood

Brain development continues. Further secondary sexual characteristics develop in males – more pubic and facial hair, larger hands and feet, broader shoulders and chest, larger skull and bone structure, greater muscle mass, prominent Adam’s apple, deeper voice.

40 years - Middle adulthood

Signs of ageing in this period include loss of skin elasticity, greying hair, waning of physical fitness and decline in fertility. Menopause in women.

60 years - Advanced adulthood

Increased signs of ageing – wrinkles, liver spots on skin, loss of hair, diminished hearing and eyesight, slower agility, slower reaction times, memory loss, greater susceptibility to bone diseases. Average New Zealand life expectancy – 82.4 for females, 78.4 for males.

    Published 11 May 2011, Updated 13 May 2014