Every baby is a miracle, but part of what makes them so special is the unique set of qualities and skills they quickly develop. It shouldn’t be a surprise that, just like all of the other systems in the human body, major development happens during pregnancy.
We often think about things like maintaining a healthy diet and movement, but mental health is just as important. A successful pregnancy means slowing down and releasing stress. Research shows that high levels of stress, especially in the critical first trimester, can impact a child’s brain development later in life.
A newborn baby’s brain grows very quickly immediately after birth and, while still growing quickly, slows down by 3 months of age. A study found that their brains grow by 1 percent each day in the first few weeks, with a growth of 64 percent overall in the first 90 days.
While the growth slows down by comparison after the first three months, a baby is born with almost all the neurons it will ever have and the brain continues to develop relatively quickly. By age two, a child’s brain is about 80% of its eventual adult size.
How can parents stimulate their baby’s brain development? There are many simple but very important activities parents can do with even very young babies. In fact, you should do them especially because their development is speedy at the youngest ages.
While using music as stimuli for brain development is sometimes debated, research shows that live, interactive music enhances a baby’s neurological function. Lullabies and other music therapies including simulated sounds from the womb can be especially beneficial for premature infants. The study found that singing was shown to increase alert times the best.
Research shows that adults communicate more effectively face-to-face, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that babies do the same. A recent study found that when a baby looks at an adult, their brain waves sync up in order to facilitate communication. Babies engage and make more sound when they make eye contact, indicating a desire to communicate. And effective communication is a benefit for baby from the start.
A primal need, touch is non-negotiable in the healthy development of a baby’s brain. Just the act of picking an infant up and putting them down helps them begin to learn where their body ends and another begins. A recent study showed that babies born prematurely had reduced brain activity in response to touch, initially, than full-term babies.
This also shows that not only touch, but the quality of touch matters. Pleasant touch, like skin-to-skin contact, resulted in a greater brain response than unpleasant touch, like skin punctures and tube adjustments so common for a premature baby.
And, research shows that almost all premature babies do catch up to full-term babies. The brain is amazing.
Cuddling with a baby has double the benefit. It releases oxytocin, a neuropeptide that promotes feelings of trust and bonding, to give mom and dad a mental boost too!