Though there is still time for her to say 'aah' and 'eeh', her eyes inquisitively search and absorb what she sees. She has already started blinking or frowning in response to loud noises. She can discriminate subtle differences between individual speech sounds. She very much recognizes your voice. It is so much fun watching her rapid growth and awesome too, isn't it?
True, the infant's brain develops rapidly especially in the first year of life signaling the inherent potential for remarkable growth. Smile when she smiles, coo when she coos, fuss when she fusses, maintain eye contact, read, play, sing, and dance - check what else you can do to foster healthy brain development. Above all, shower the much-needed love and attention, for those who are denied enough love and attention in infancy are less likely to become well-adjusted adults.
Peeping into infant's brain
Detailed research on infant brain development has revealed these facts for consideration and understanding.
- Human brain development actually begins in the womb.
- Most of the brain cells are formed before birth.
- A child is born with around 100 billion cells.
- The nerve cells of the brain are like a mass of unconnected electrical wires.
- Right after birth, the wires constantly strive to get connected.
- First three years of life is when cells make the most connections with other cells.
- How many get connected and how strong the connections depend upon child's early experiences.
- A child's environment has enormous impact on how these cells get connected or 'wired' to each other.
- Brain is also capable of eliminating connections.
- It differentiates between connections used most and those not used regularly.
- Least used connections are pruned or eliminated.
- Most used become a permanent part of the brain.
- For permanent connections infants need safety, love, interaction and a positive stimulating environment.
Time to lay foundation
The prenatal period, infancy, early childhood, middle and late childhood, and adolescence - brain development normally progresses through various stages. A look at the brain structure shows that the chemicals that foster brain development are released in stages. So, different areas of the brain evolve in a sequence.
Detailed researches on the subject indicate that there are certain 'critical periods' and 'sensitive periods' in brain development for different brain functions. During these periods there is a heightened sensitivity to external stimuli. It's the right time to lay foundations. If the stimulus is not appropriate it may be difficult to develop some functions later in life.
For example, at around two months, babies undergo a critical period in the development of vision. Exposure to visual stimuli during this period is advantageous. If not, nerves will degenerate and eventually die. Also, if the infant has a minor eye condition, if unnoticed during this period, it can result in lifelong vision problems.
Compared to critical period, sensitive periods are a longer time, a time when windows open for certain types of learning. When the windows open, if the right inputs are provided, the individual stands to gain better as against learning it at a later period in life. Unlike critical period it doesn't mean missing the opportunity or losing it forever.
For example, during the first six months to two years, the infant experiences an increasing tendency to be attached or friendly with known faces and be wary of unfamiliar adults. The frequency of interactions and quality of experience determines the reaction.If the experience of care giving is consistent then a secure attachment relationship is formed. The attachment can develop at a later period too but not so readily and with some amount of difficulty. Socio-emotional, intellectual, physical development, cognitive skill development, all these if given the right stimuli can develop extremely well and with ease during the sensitive period.
Know what and when
Here is a summarized guide of what an infant normally does, as she gets older by days and months. Parents, caregivers and grandparents who spend valuable time with the infant ought to be aware of what development to expect during the normal course of time. Some infants may take a longer time, which should not be a cause for worry. But too much delay can suggest a disorder, which should be discussed with the health care provider
First 2 months: It is normal for the infant to sleep long hours.
At 2 months: She would start to smile, make vague noises and also begin to laugh. Very soon she will try to lift her head and shoulders but for a short duration. In the next couple of months she will try to roll over, sit up with support and may hold on to a rattle too.
At 4 months: She can roll over- front and back, right and left. She is curious,
tries to reach out and catch things nearby and loves to imitate.
At nine months: She is busy making efforts to stand, sit without support, crawl, and wave goodbye and weary of strangers. Very soon she can utter mama, papa and walk holding hands.
At 12 months: She is ready to cut her birthday cake. She can stand and walk without
support and even run. She can hold to spoons and eat from a plate. Her passion for various things unravel - be it colors, toys, people, music etc.
Parent's contribution and infant brain development
As such while feeding, diapering, and holding infants learn a great deal. These precious moments can be utilized well in order to help the infant reach developmental milestones and grow into a confident and independent individual.Check out what can be done to develop a healthy brain while in the womb and thereafter to create a multi-sensory environment.
Fetus care: To contribute positively to infant's brain development, the pregnant mother ought to concentrate on her diet, be active, exercise, follow doctor's instructions, moderate her thoughts and effect lifestyle changes too, if need be.
Omega 3 supplements: The final 13 to 14 weeks of pregnancy is critical. The mother is required to take nutrition rich diet. A good pregnancy diet should include plenty of omega 3 oils with DHA.Specially formulated supplements are available. Omega 3 fats have been shown to stimulate healthy brain cells and connections. These fats are vital during the last trimester of pregnancy and after birth, as well. The mother should continue to take the supplement even after childbirth as long as she is breast-feeding as omega 3 fats do pass through breast milk. There is sufficient proof that indicates infants fed with omega 3 supplements are better off and have a healthy brain development as compared to those who weren't.
Contribution of breastfeeding: Breast milk contains in the right proportion all that is required for brain and nervous system development. There are many intangible benefits for brain development and IQ. It promotes closeness and emotional health, which work as stimulus for the brain.
Be warm and loving: First and foremost important contribution is lots of love and care for the infant. The kind of care a child receives plays a big role in how the brain chooses to wire itself. Talking, holding, cuddling, singing, maintaining eye contacts with infant provide essential nourishment for the brain.
Physical help: Engaging and encouraging infant in physical play activities is important. When you do so, it develops baby's muscle strength, the gross motor control and also develops body awareness. There are simple things, which can be helpful.
- Caring mothers or caregivers are likely to restrict the baby explore water while bathing for the fearing of catching cold. Instead, encourage baby to kick, splash and wriggle around. Let them move freely. This
is right time to use their muscles, move their hands and legs. The infant would love it; have fun and looks forward to play every day.
- 30 minutes tummy time for infants help develop gross motor skills. The infant is ready for tummy time once they are strong enough to lift head and shoulders.It can be a 5-minute session x six times or even a two sessions of just 2 or 5 minutes. Very soon the child is eager to crawl and roll. Make it interesting. Sing
songs, play music and let not the infant feel alone. So participate and lie down beside and use a favorite toy as a motivation tool.
- The baby bouncer provides a window of opportunity for the baby to explore and exercise. Safety measures are to be strictly followed. The infant is ready to use baby bouncer if he/she is able to life head and shoulders and is trying to sit up without help. At this stage, ten minutes is the ideal time to sit in the baby bouncer. The child can use it until around 4 or 5 months of age. Soon, the infant is readying up legs to walk and is an excellent way to build of muscle strength. Play music, sing songs and participate, capture these are moments in video to cherish forever.
- Try making funny faces. You will observe that the infant is trying to imitate. The changing expressions and accompanying noises fascinates the infant.This activity stimulates listening skills apart from social, visual and emotional development. It also contributes to strong bonding.
- Explore the sense of touch by engaging in tickle time activities. Make use of cotton balls, feathers, tissues, a comb or any piece of soft fabric and gently brush it on the cheeks, tummy or leg. This activity
promotes body awareness and understanding body language. The curiosity level grows in exploring that which makes the infant feel comfortable.
- Engaging the baby in stacking objects is good to develop hand-eye co-ordination and improve motor skills. Show the infant how to do it and provide support when needed.
- Read to infants. Even though not in a position to comprehend, it has a profound positive effect during the later part of life. Listening skills improve, concentration skills improve, and a good habit is
inculcated, curiosity to keenly observe various tones and rhythms forms.
- Besides keep conversing with the infant while bathing, changing diapers, while feeding, even while playing. They have the innate capacity to recognize and in due course respond.
Social help: None can live in isolation. Socialization skills are necessary to interact and maintain cordial relationship. There is enough proof that suggests social development skills is not possible without emotional and language skills. Infants tend to observe and imitate parents and caregivers. For example, if parents and caregivers enjoy being in a group and maintain amicable relationship, the chances of infants developing such skills are better. There are simple ways to stimulate social skills.
- Set an example by your behavior.
- Maintain a pleasant composure.
- Always smile and use soft tones.
- Encourage infant to see mirror. It develops self image
- Develop trust. Provide a secured feeling to infant.
- Let kids play with the infant. It fosters friendship.
- Respond to infant's cries in interesting ways.
- Always maintain eye contacts.
- Respond to stretching arms to reach you.
- Interact a lot.
Infant development toys: Introduce various interaction toys. Infant development toys are designed to develop child's five senses, motor skills and cognitive thinking, as well as social and emotional skills.
Exercise: Besides engaging infant in physical activities that promote motor skills and muscle movement, infancy is not too early a time to introduce simple exercises. Simple kids indoor exercises are beneficial to stimulate and develop infant's brain. Simple movements like moving arms, shaking hands and feet make them aware of their body. Improve visual senses by showing different colors. Use the rattle and watch facial expressions. You will soon find out what is the favorite sound, this contributes to improve hearing senses.
Avoid unpleasantness: Subjecting an infant to unpleasant behavior can have profound and irreversible effect. Over a period of time it can result in psychiatric disorders, dependency on drugs and a variety of relationship problems. Abuse and neglect often result in infant facing emotional, psychological, inter-personal and behavioral disorders.