Shaping Young Minds: Your Baby’s Brain Development

The phrase “knowledge is power” is really a pregnant woman’s code for “the more I learn about child-rearing, the more I completely freak out!” During my first pregnancy, Amazon couldn’t complete its promise on two-day shipping before I was ordering yet another baby book which would freak me out further. Not to mention my mother worked for state programs like First Steps and Healthy Families. I learned way too early that a kid’s brain was mostly formed by age 5. The most significant brain development occurs from ages 0-3.

What a lot of pressure on a new mom! The first few years we are sleep-deprived hormonal shells of a human being. That’s when we’re supposed to create our best work?! Give me a break! I can still feel the panic attacks from my first trimester. Before you also begin breathing into a paper bag, let me be the calm during your storm over grey matter and neuroscience. After my daughter was born, I learned that most of what her brain needed I did naturally.

My favorite pregnancy book was not your typical What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but rather Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina. I wanted to know about the science behind brain development. Here are a few things scientific research says the brain needs to thrive (this is not an exhaustive list). Of course, genetics play a big role, but I’m focusing on things we can control. Nurture instead of nature.

During Pregnancy:

  1. Gain the right amount of weight (yikes!): A baby’s IQ is a function of her brain volume, and brain volume is related to birth weight. The food we consume helps grow a larger baby. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean weekly trips to Mi-Lady Bakery (hometown shout-out!). It would probably be better if I followed the advice I’m promoting, right?
  2. Nutrition: Out of 45 nutrients necessary for body growth, 38 of those nutrients are related to neurological development. Eat like a caveman with well-balanced meals that heavily emphasize fruits and vegetables. The most influential supplements on brain development are folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Stress: We cannot avoid stress completely (especially as expecting moms), but we can try to avoid stress that is too frequent or too severe. Those are the most toxic kinds of stress to fetal brain development.

After Birth:

  1. Safety: The brain is more interested in surviving than learning. Only when the brain feels safe can those neurons focus on learning. Personally, I think a baby feeling safe (and loved) is the most important thing!
  2. Communication: Talk to your baby from the beginning and talk a lot! Also, using a variety of words is just as important. Even though your little one is not talking back at first, he is always listening!
  3. Playtime: Open-ended activities are as important to neural growth as protein! This is “unstructured, do-anything-you-want play.”

Now that my kids are nearly 5 and 6 years old, I can relax and turn the mediocre parenting dial up, right? Maybe not, but I am proud that I was able to take some of the above advice. I can’t see into their brains, but I can recognize they are thriving.

If you have reach this landmark in your child’s life, be proud of yourself as a parent. You made it through the most significant brain years of their life! And if you are part of the under 5 category, don’t freak out! You’re probably giving them what they need without even thinking about it.

Source: Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina

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