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A baby's brain develops super fast starting in utero. Brains grow sort of like a plant, the roots are neuro pathways that are created with every little piece of stimulation a baby receives. Stimulation, or sensory input, means physical feelings, sounds, tastes, smells, and sights. Movement is essential to experiencing sensations. Even during sleep, a baby is breathing, moving, and changing. When a baby eats, when a baby plays, when a baby stares, these are all activities that contribute to baby's nervous system and body development, therefore enabling those neural pathways to be built and expanded. The more a baby repeats an activity, the deeper that pathway becomes and the more skilled the baby becomes at that activity.
From conception to age 4, a baby's brain grows to 90% of it's lifetime potential. Millions of brain cells form daily and all are critical to developing a healthy, optimally-functioning human being. Luckily, mother nature takes care of most of the work for us in this stage of life as children reach their milestones and develop automated movement capabilities that open space in their brain for higher level thinking. But there are still many things caregivers can do to optimize baby brain development and set them up for success as you'll see below.
Learning is a process that builds upon itself. The brain takes what it already knows and uses that to learn more. In babyhood, babies are able to receive much more information then they can display. A baby's brain receptors (the things that RECEIVE information) are hard at work taking in ALL the sensory stimulation around them. At certain phases in development, certain types of stimulation are especially beneficial. Here are some important ways caregivers can optimize brain development in the first year:
1. Provide lots of repetition - It may be boring for you but it's crucial to baby's brain development, you can't repeat a song or activity too much! If you want to know more, Active Babies, Smart Kids as some great information on repetition.
2. Make sure your baby gets a balance of quiet time and stimulation - time for rest and processing is important. Don't expect baby to be in the mood to play all the time. Baby is most ready to learn if they are well rested, fed, and have a clean diaper. For some peaceful quiet time music, check out my Quiet Time spotify playlist!
3. Devote time to face-to-face interaction - Baby reads every little piece of your face and is perceptive to every little inflection in your voice. Getting to know your human face teaches them early communication and builds emotional security. Here's a great article from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on the importance of face to face interaction.
4. Offer frequent physical connection - Build a strong attachment with baby and reduce stress for both of you through snuggles, skin to skin, and lap play songs like these from Intellidance.
5. Create a diverse play time experience - Try to get your baby moving in many different ways throughout the day- tummy time, back time, swinging side to side, bouncing up and down, spinning in circles etc. Also try to introduce them to a variety of sounds, textures, images and PEOPLE - this sensory input helps them build proprioception and discover their world.