The Early Years: Tips for Boosting Your Baby’s Brain Development
When a baby is born, parents hope for their child to grow into an intelligent and healthy individual. Parents want their child to succeed both cognitively and socially.
To nurture a child to their best potential, it is imperative parents tackle the effects early brain development strategies can have on their baby’s lifetime. It is during the first years of life that much of the essential wiring linked to a baby’s learning is developed.
What Can Parents Do?
There are many educational television shows such as Sesame Street, or even educational videos such as Baby Einstein that can help children get their brain cells moving. However, it’s important to remember these should be used in addition to, and not as a replacement for, one-on-one contact with your baby.
Building bonds and sharing experiences that have emotional content is meaningful to a baby. During this time, a child’s brain is more receptive to positive influences and more vulnerable to negative ones than it will be in later years.
Here’s a list of things you can do to boost your baby’s brain development and build a personal connection with your baby:
- Read to your baby: Choose books with large and colorful pictures and shapes, and share your baby’s delight in pointing and making noises. Make the animal sounds to go along with farm animal pictures, modulate the tone of your voice, and simplify or elaborate on story lines. Babies’ language development is influenced by the language they hear spoken around them and spoken to them.
- Play with your baby: Tickle and massage your baby. One study showed babies showed who had received more nurturing from their mothers had a thicker hippocampus than those who were not as well nurtured. A stronger hippocampus is associated with improved memory, better focus, ability to retain learning, and more.
- Make silly faces: Make funny faces at your baby. Newborns as young as two-days-old can begin imitating simple facial movements. This is a sign of very early problem solving.
- Sing simple songs and nursery rhymes with repetitive phrases: Songs such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Ring-Around-the-Rosy” are good examples. Including body motions and finger play will help your baby integrate sounds with large and small motor actions. Songs also enhance your child’s learning of rhythms, rhymes, and language patterns.
- Narrate everything you and your baby do: Saying things such as “I am putting on your socks,” or “I am putting you in the car seat” helps your baby learn words and shows them the importance of communicating.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, says proper nutrition and a healthy diet for your baby is also linked to boosting brain development. She shares some of her tips below.
Nutrition Tips for Your Baby
Ideally, from birth to six months, breast milk is best to feed your child. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breast milk to age two.
In fact, breastfeeding has many benefits. Did you know:
- Breastfeeding allows time for bonding with your baby
- The nutrients in human milk cannot be fully replicated
- Breast milk changes based on the needs of the child
A weaning chart compiled from information from various medical experts such as private pediatricians, the AAP, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and the WHO shows the appropriate ages and foods to feed your baby.
Between the ages of four to six months, solids may be introduced. White or brown rice cereal and healthy fruits like apples, avocados, bananas, and pears are acceptable. Between the ages of six and eight months, meats can be introduced, but you should start with chicken first. Additionally, eggs and peanuts may be introduced during this time period. Between the ages of eight to ten months grains and dairy products can be introduced. To view the full weaning chart, visit here.
While introducing new foods to kids, it is important to remember to only give one new food at a time. You should wait three to five days before introducing a new food. If a baby has an allergy to something, it takes three to five days to see if a baby is allergic. You can overlap the foods that you know are safe; however, wait on introducing the new foods.
While transitioning to whole foods, parents should make sure it is very small and chewable to avoid choking hazards. The one thing that should not be introduced to your child before the age of one is honey. Honey is not pasteurized and can be harmful to babies.
“Cognitively, when we give babies better nutrition, they do better in school, they are less likely to have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and they are less likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders,” said Derocha.
“A child’s diet, especially early on, can impact them through adulthood.”
Photo credit: MFer Photography