Fertile Ground – how your baby’s brain grows and develops

In the spirit of the Lizette’s years of searching and gaining knowledge, we thought it would be apt to start our blog off with a post on how your baby’s brain is wired. To understand this could change the way you view your role as parent forever. In fact, it is only in recent years that science has corroborated Lizette’s early passion for shaping your baby and child through experience.

Your baby is born with approximately 100 billion brain cells, but he is not able to use most of them because the connections between the cells are yet to be ‘hard-wired’, which can be compared to a row of telephone poles that still need to be wired together before they can carry messages. Neuroscientists can today confirm the unlike an arm or leg that simply grows bigger, the brain doesn’t only grow, it changes with each new connection it makes!

This basically means that what your child’s early experiences impact his brain to the point where it is shaped to adapt to his unique circumstances. His experiences have a direct effect on his ability to be happy, feel safe, think intelligently and use his latent skills and talents.

When your baby is born, his primitive reflexes, such as breathing and his beating heart are in place in order for him to survive. Then, in the first couple of months, your baby’s brain makes trillions of connections between brain cells, more than he’ll ever actually need, but these connections are immature and wispy and are only ‘hard-wired’ through experience.

Those connections that are not hard-wired through experience actually fall away in a process called ‘pruning’. The implications of this discovery are astounding because it means that without regular exposure, the ability to learn and understand certain things will fall away and become difficult or impossible to learn later on.

The more your baby experiences something, like your caress or a lullaby, holding his rattle or building blocks, the stronger the connections become. The opposite is also true. Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in the US have found that children who don’t play much and are rarely touched develop brains that 20% – 30% smaller than their peers.

The data coming from laboratories are underscoring the importance of hands-on parenting, of how important it is to cuddle your baby, talk to your toddler and provide your children with stimulating experiences. Scientists have seen evidence of this fact as early as the 1970’s, but it has only been recently that researchers have had the tools powerful enough to actually see inside your baby’s brain.

Children who are talked to more often have larger vocabularies confirms a study by Janellen Huttenlocher of the University of Chicago. At 20 months, children of talkative mothers had on average 131 more words than their peers, while this more than doubled at 24 months to a gap of 295 more words.

What was also discovered is that only “live” language works, not television, because for language retention to be effective it must be used in relation to ongoing events and in the presence of real-life emotions, or it’s just white noise.

This discovery lead to another – that information embedded in an emotional context seems to stimulate neural activity more powerfully than information alone. In a book written by Steve Biddulph, called ‘Raising Babies’ he explains how love and happiness literally grows babies’ brains.

“When a baby sees a smiling face, or is given a warm cuddle, its body produces more growth hormone and it’s brain comes alive, and grows new connections more quickly. Happiness is as essential to a baby as food or air.”

So, not only is stimulation important for your baby, but the way in which the stimulation is packaged. Love and care are the glue that makes the learning stick, so to speak. If your baby’s brain development could be compared to a stack of loose bricks, love and care would be the mortar used to build what will house your baby’s full potential.

Now that the scientific community has confirmed how important experiences, stimulation and a loving environment are for your baby, I am sure you are wondering how you can use this knowledge to change your life?

The first and most important step is to create a secure and loving environment, as this is the ‘glue’ that will make everything else you do stick.

The second thing to remember is that with limited time, you must always aim to stimulate your baby or child in an age-appropriate way. Do what they need, when they need it. For example, an hour long marathon of stimulation is not going to work for a child who has a five-minute attention span. Rather spread out stimulation into little bundles throughout the day.

And lastly, see your child as a ‘whole person’. Find a balance between nurturing their weaknesses and building on their strengths. Remember all the areas of development – physical, emotional, intellectual and social and try to include them all in your day-to-day life.

Your child, born with an amazing capacity to learn, needs you and your loving interaction to shape his abilities – to lay the foundation for the rest of his life. While this is a real responsibility, it is also exciting and motivating. Sing or talk as you change your baby’s nappy, smile and laugh as you build blocks, play peek-a-boo to get your little one to laugh, cuddle when you read together, let your face light up when your child enters a room.

The good news is that your love really does make a huge difference to your child’s ability to reach his fullest potential.

Words: Loren Stow
when we know better… we do better

*Practica Parents, we hope this post inspires you to continue using the programmeme everyday. There are so many valuable exercises designed to reinforce the connections in your baby’s brain, to build a solid foundation for future potential. If you ever wonder how to use something in the programme, please call the advisory service for assistance.

If you would like to be notified by email when the blog is updated please send an email to lizette@practicaprogramme.co.za

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