After a baby is born, her brain and her nervous system get to work learning about how her body works and the world that she live in. Despite the fact that a newborn sleeps quite a lot of her day, a baby's brain and nervous system are incredibly busy. If fact, from birth to 2½ years old, a baby's brain is the busiest that it will ever be in her entire lifetime as it learns to process information and to develop new skills. A baby learns that this is mom and that's dad and how to move her body in space. She learns how to recognize important people in her life and what certain words mean.
From the age 2 ½ to 5, to improve efficiency, a child's brain starts to prune down connections (the technical term is synapses) that aren't used much. If parents play and engage with their babies (or children!), they help to strengthen synapses within the brain, and reduce the pruning process.
In summary, from birth to 5 years old, parents have a great opportunity to stimulate their child's brain to ensure that its connections within the brain and to the body are strong. Here are some easy things that you can do to stimulate your child's brain:
1. Delay returning to work for as long as possible. The first year of life is really important to establish the bonding and attachment process between a baby and her parents, especially with her mom. If mom or dad can be at home that first year, your baby will have more secure relationships with you and everyone else in her life.
2. Carry your baby around with you, wherever possible. The physical act of moving back and forth as you walk and bend stimulates the part of your baby's brain that tracks balance and position of the body. Babies who are carried usually walk faster than babies who are not.
3. Breastfeed your baby as long as possible. Breastmilk contains all that a baby needs to support her developing brain and nervous system. It gives a baby immunity from viral or bacterial infections, it provides comfort and enhances the mother/baby bonding and attachment process. Studies have shown that babies who are breastfed have relatively higher intelligence than babies who are not.
4. Touch your baby whenever possible. The physical act of touch is a great way to stimulate your baby's brain. Infant massage is especially beneficial because it provides the positive benefits of relaxation, improved digestion and an enhanced quality of sleep. You can learn infant massage from a certified infant massage instructor, or you can read books or watch videos. An added bonus is that the people who are giving the baby massage have improved health, reduced stress, and they sleep better, too!
5. Respond to your baby's needs in a timely manner. When a baby cries, she is communicating a need for something that almost always is comfort, food, or a diaper change. The saying that "you'll spoil a child if you go to her whenever she cries" is simply incorrect. When you respond to your child's needs, your baby learns that mom and dad can be depended upon. She also learns that she has value as a person.
6. Read and sing to your baby. Language and music are great ways to stimulate a baby's brain. We have a specific place in our brains that processes language and music and the more that you talk to your baby, the more stimulation that her brain will receive. Classical, country or light rock music are the best choices as their beat is stimulating, but not overly so. It is important to realize that television or radio programs are not a good substitute for a real conversation. A baby is not able to follow a television or radio's message, and most babies tune out television or radio sounds because they over stimulate a baby's brain.
In conclusion, the underlying principle is that the more time you spend with your baby or your child in play and with one-on-one interactions, the more you stimulate your baby's or your child's brain. Add some of the above suggestions to your day and everyone benefits from time spent together because it's just plain fun!
Dr. Melanie Beingessner is a chiropractor, a breastfeeding counsellor, a certified infant massage instructor and the mother of three fabulous kids. She is the author of The Calm Baby Cookbook, written to help breastfeeding moms calm their fussy babies by changing their diets.
Dr. Melanie’s website provides information about pregnancy, breastfeeding, ADD/ADHD, chiropractic, health and wellness at drmelaniebee.org