Babies are born with all of the brain cells they’ll ever need and yet the infant brain is very immature at birth. Connections in the brain are being made with every experience a baby encounters. In fact, their brain produces 700 new neural connections every second!
That’s why early experiences matter. The first three years are the most critical for an infant’s brain development. Brains develop like a pyramid; a baby must master a foundation of basic functions before higher ones can be learned. Over the first six months, the part of the brain that controls movement develops the fastest: reach and grasp, then full body movements like rolling over. Each experience gives them the satisfaction to continue on and grow more.
As parents, there are three learning pillars that we can put in place around the infant in order to foster their brain development: sensory experiences, positive relationships, and consistency and routine. Learn more about how each of these pillars contributes to your baby’s growing brain.
The foundation of an infant brain’s growth is through sensory development. Each and every sensation a baby experiences is new, so it’s up to the specialised processes of each sense to take it all in, send an electrical signal to the brain, process what it is, and file it away as an learned experience to remember.
There are seven senses through which a baby takes in the world and thus builds their brain connections:
Smell – Smell is the strongest sense that a baby is born with. When placed right on a mother’s stomach after birth, many babies will crawl to their mother’s nipple after being drawn to the milk by smell.
Touch – Babies’ skin is ultra-sensitive… they can even feel vibrations from your body before you touch them! Because skin is the largest organ on the human body its vital to stimulate it. Skin-to-skin contact with a parent is beneficial and feels exceptionally comforting to a baby. By the time a baby is about eight months old, a baby can touch and identify an object without seeing it; they’re able to explore with their hands and then create a mental image of the object.
Taste – A baby’s sense of taste is at its strongest when first born. But it’s up to parents to introduce various flavours to our. Babies initially get exposed to different flavours when in the womb and then through their mother’s breast milk, so if you want your child to be an adventurous eater you should eat lots of different flavours yourself too!
Sound – Your baby’s hearing is better than yours is. That’s why loud noises can startle an infant. Babies generally prefer high-pitches sounds and voices so talking in “motherese” to your baby can be comforting and enjoyable.
Sight – In the first month, a baby isn’t able to focus their eyes. Their optic nerves require more development. The best way to help their eyesight develop is by making lots of eye contact with your baby. By three months, all the new sights will be exciting them. In these early months your baby will love to look at faces, movement in nature, and in block colours (as opposed to busy patterns that can be too over stimulating).
Vestibular System – This is the sense of balance that keeps us upright. Without balance, we wouldn’t be able to sit, stand, or jump!
Proprioception – Body awareness, or a sense of space and position, is part of the body’s proprioception system. It’s what enables us to know where our hand is without looking at it, for example. This system is one that we can guide a baby to learn, but only to a point. That’s because the only way for a child to know his own body is to use it.
Time and experience – through everyday moments that include showing affection, comforting and playing with an infant – build strong, healthy brains in our children. It all starts with responding to our baby’s cries. When they’re young, babies cry to communicate everything: hunger, exhaustion, discomfort, and more. As you respond to your baby’s cries you will teach her to trust you, which gives her a sense of security or comfort.
It’s up to us to give our babies lots of contact with people who will give the baby their time. This time could be in the form of singing, reading, playing, and going out. Your interest in your baby delights her and encourages her to keep experimenting. As she does, she continues to learn and grow.
These loving, consistent positive relationships also protect your baby’s brain from the negative effects of stress. Even very young infants can experience stress when the places they live and play in feel unsafe. Toxic stress – such as extreme marital conflict, poverty, abuse, or neglect – is harmful to your baby and can lead to physical, learning and emotional problems throughout childhood and even into adulthood.
Showing a baby that we care about her – by responding to her needs and giving her our time – allows the baby to form positive relationships with her caregivers. These positive relationships are the backbone of healthy social and emotional development. And through the activities we do with the babies, they are able to learn about communication too.
Consistency and Routine
It’s important that parents give their children a safe, familiar environment in which to explore. If not there would be too much for a baby to take in leading them to be over-stimulated and fractious.
In a safe environment, babies are usually free to explore their surroundings, both inside and out. This explorative play helps babies learn. By telling your baby what is going on throughout the day you’ll help your baby understand everything that she’s taking in through her senses.
Even very young babies show pleasure being able to know what comes next. If parents develop daily routines that babies can count on, it’ll help to keep the home calm.
A baby’s brain develops so much, through such a variety of activities. The main thing to remember is that a young baby is not a ‘blob that doesn’t do much yet’, but rather a small future adult who’s taking in the entire world around them now.
All of SensoBaby’s classes are focused on age-appropriate development through play. Visit the schedule to find the class that’s right for you and your infant.