Newborn Brain Development
By: Kathy Namba
Posted: April 11, 2010
I was so happy to meet one of First Steps' newest members the other day. Penny is just two weeks old and is a beautiful red-head with her mom's gorgeous eyes. I got to hold Penny after her bath; she was alert, content. Newborns are so fun to watch as they figure out their big new world. But what is so amazing is to think that during that half hour or so of interaction with her mom, her dad and me, she probably fired off thousands of connections among neurons in her brain. You see, babies come "hard-wired" with brain cells (neurons) and general connections between brain regions. But experiences are necessary to fine-tune and expand those connections. Babies and young children need experiences to help develop the connections among the neurons so that the brain can take in new information, adapt, and learn. What were the experiences that Penny had that fired so many connections that afternoon? Simple, everyday experiences done with love and care. The warm bath water on her skin (tactile), her father's greeting as he entered the room (language), the lotion rubbed on her skin (tactile), her mother's soothing voice (emotion), the change in position as she was put into my arms (motor), her inspection of my face--a newcomer to her (visual). You don't need fancy toys or gimmicks to stimulate your baby's brain. Talk to her. Sing to her. Allow her to sit or lie in a variety of positions and places (always safe and appropriate!) Read to her. Gaze into each other's eyes. Coo at one another. Smile. Take the time to talk about what you are doing while you change her diaper. Hold her close. Talk to her as she lies in her bassinet--a new perspective on your face! Give her your finger to grip, the newborn's version of holding hands.
Research tells us that the first three years are the critical ones in terms of brain development. But, lucky for us parents, our brains continue to re-shape to learn and adapt even as adults. So holding baby close, gazing into baby's eyes--they shape our brains too.