The first few months of a baby’s life is a vial time for brain development, what they learn, starting when in their mother’s womb will shape them for the rest of their life. Here are some amazing facts about the newborn brain and its development…
Their brain works harder than yours
Babies are born at an early stage in their development, meaning a baby’s brain still has a lot of growing to do.
A baby’s brain grows more rapidly between birth and the age of three than it ever will again. During every second of a baby’s first few months, a thousand neural synapses – the pathways that are formed from memories of experience – form in the brain.
The brain doubles in size during a baby’s first year and, by the age of three, it will have already reached around 80% of the size it will be when they reach adulthood. During this time, it’s more active than an adult’s brain.
New parents often don’t realise that their baby arrives in the world already connected to them. The baby’s brain develops in the womb and can hear the world around their mother from the third trimester.
This means a baby is born already knowing the voices of their mother and whoever else has been in their world on an everyday basis.
So although they can only see a distance of around 30cm at birth, your baby will know your voice and find it comforting to hear you chatting when she can’t see you.
They can’t tune anything out
It is easy for babies to become easily over-stimulated. Whilst their brain is busy developing all those synapses, they’ll notice every single thing around them until the age of 3 years.
Babies don’t know how to tune out yet, as they do not understand the way the world works. For example, sitting in a local café chatting with a friend may to you be a relaxing trip out, but for your baby they will be taking in the other customers, the coffee machines, the pictures on the wall… the list goes on.
A little language genius
For adults, learning a foreign language is hard work. But for your baby, it’s easy.
The optimum period of time for learning languages is from three months before birth until around the age of five years. Right now, a baby’s brain is tuning into the rhythms and nuances of everything you say, and noticing different sounds, which we think of as words, being used in different ways.
Obsessed with imitation
Your baby is born anticipating a connection with the people around them, and they’ll use imitation to find it. A newborn’s brain is already interested in other people’s faces: babies will study, read and interpreting them.
Babies look for patterns from birth. For example, if your baby sticks her tongue out, they’ll notice if you reply by imitating them. From this a baby will experiment, example widening eyes, clenching their tiny hands… will anyone copy that? Babies are always looking for a response, so if you copy them, you’ll soon find they start “taking turns” with you.
Babies won’t help you at first…
It’s not until babies reach 14 months that their capacity for reading the meaning in your actions begins.
But once it does, they’ll be progressively able to read what your intention or your goal is, and start helping you, for example by lifting their bottom as you take off a nappy.
Their brain is slow to control their body
An area at the back of a baby’s brain, the cerebellum, is responsible for movement and muscle coordination. Until it’s sufficiently developed, infants don’t have the sort of control an older child has.
A baby doesn’t consciously learn how to roll, crawl, walk or use their vocal chords. As the muscles in their body develops, they’ll naturally start to do these. Their brain then tracks the patterns of their body and the sensations, and neural pathways develop to give them control.
Meltdowns are just part of the learning curve
The next time your little one has a meltdown or a tantrum, remember that babies don’t have a complete brain until they’re two – and the bit they need to avoid that tantrum in the first place just hasn’t finished growing yet.
‘Around the age of two, the frontal cortex of her brain starts to develop, this is the part in the forehead that helps to manage conflicting emotions and behaviour. Until the cortex has fully developed, babies don’t have the necessary neural pathways in their brain to manage lots of emotions at the same time.
Brain growth burns half their calories
With all this activity and rapid growth, is it any wonder? A baby’s brain growth uses half their energy until they are about five years old, while yours, in comparison, uses only about a quarter of your energy.
They have no idea it’s you tickling them
It’s a favourite game for lots of toddlers, but tickling can be confusing for your baby in the early days.
Scientists have discovered that before the age of four months, when you tickle your baby, they don’t know where the sensation is coming from. When you tickle a baby, they simply feel the sensation and associates it with your voice. Their brains have not yet developed the pattern that realise your voice is connected to the hands that tickle their toes.
In time, they’ll put all that together and grow the synapses that let them learn how the tickling game is played. The predictability and anticipation is what eventually makes it fun.