At the time a baby is born, most of the body organs are pretty well developed. The heart, lungs and digestive systems are all fully functional. But according to pediatrician Tim Larsen of Intermountain Sunset Clinic and Intermountain Redrock Pediatrics, much of a child’s brain development happens after birth.

“All of the pieces are there, but the connections between neurons still need to develop,” Larsen said. “Most of those connections happen in the first years of life, but they can continue through the first two decades and even into the third.”

In terms of body control, “The brain develops from head to toe. One of the first things to happen is visual pathways. Babies learn to focus, and then to hear and recognize parents’ voices,” Larsen explained.

“After about one to three months, babies gain neck and head control, and at three to six months, begin using their arms, grabbing, and developing eye-hand coordination as they explore the world,” he continued. “As they develop trunk muscles at roughly four to seven months, they are able to sit and roll over. Between ten and 14 months leg coordination develops enough for standing and then walking.”

Even as babies’ brains learn to control their bodies, they are also developing intellectually.

“The first language a baby learns is emotions — body language and facial expressions,” explained Dr. Larsen. “Babies will respond to a parent being happy or depressed.”

They also do something called social referencing. When babies meet someone new or are in a new circumstance, they look to parents’ faces to see their reactions.

“Babies learn how to react to new people by watching their parents. If parents are shy or uneasy, a baby will sense that. This can contribute to stranger anxiety. When parents are outgoing and friendly, a baby will tend to be as well.”

In fact, parents and caregivers play a key role throughout the development of a child’s brain. As parents interact with their kids everyday, they are actually structuring their children’s brains.

“That is a huge responsibility,” said Dr. Larsen. The good news is that many of the things that babies need happen naturally. For instance, the distance from your face to the baby you cradle in your arms is “exactly the right distance for an infant who is trying to learn to focus.” That high voice we all seem to slip into when talking to a baby is just the right pitch for a baby to hear.

“Things that come naturally — talking, tickling, gentle bouncing, and playing all help to develop pathways in a child’s brain,” explained Dr. Larsen.

In contrast, child abuse, domestic stress and emotional detachment “are the enemy of healthy brain development.”

Dr. Larsen recommends the five “R”s for helping to develop healthy brains:

• Reading. “You can start as young as six months. Reading provides positive attention, and is a calming activity.”

• Rhyming. “Playing rhyming games fosters creativity.”

• Routines. “Stick to predictable family routines, especially around mealtime and bedtime.”

• Rewards. “Be sure to praise successes.”

• Relationships. “Nurturing relationships can help buffer stress.”

While no parent is perfect, “kids are very resilient. Brain development is a dynamic, ongoing process,” concluded Dr. Larsen.


By Kristy Ann Pike

Source: St. George Daily Spectrum –