Easy Activities that Help Stimulate Your Baby's Brain
After birth, your baby’s brain and nervous system are busier than you can ever imagine. In the first year of life, your baby progresses from not being able to lift his head to talking, standing upright and possibly walking. Your baby learns that this is mom and that’s dad and how to move his body in space. He learns how to breastfeed, and lift his head. He starts to recognize important people in his life and what certain words mean. From one to 2½ years old, your baby’s brain is the busiest that it will ever be in his entire lifetime as it learns to navigate his body smoothly through space, processing information about his environment, learning language(s) and manners and developing new skills
From the age 2 ½ to 5, to improve efficiency, his busy brain starts to prune down connections (the technical term is synapses) that aren’t used often. This is a normal part of brain development. If parents play and engage with their babies, they help to strengthen synapses within the brain, and reduce the pruning process.
Interaction and stimulation are the key to healthy brain development. From birth to 5 years old, parents have a great opportunity to enhance their child’s brain function to ensure that its connections within the brain and to the body are strong. Here are some easy things that you can do to stimulate your child’s brain and enhance his neurological development:
Take your baby to a pediatric focused chiropractor
I can’t write an article about brain development and babies without plugging my own profession. Babies need help to keep their nervous systems functioning optimally, just as much as adults do. Birth is physically difficult for both mom and baby and many babies can experience pain, especially neck pain afterwards. If your baby does not breastfeed well on one side, or if he refuses to look in one direction, chances are that his neck is sore. Babies do not have pain tolerance, which means that if it hurts to look in one direction, they won’t look in that direction, period. The result is that because your baby is only offering input from one side of his world, his brain only gets half its potential stimulation.
It is important for a baby’s brain to be stimulated from his entire world, and that’s where pediatric chiropractors can help. Pediatric focused chiropractors who have taken courses from the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) – please link to icpa4kids.org know how to adjust babies in an incredibly gentle way. Pediatric chiropractic adjustments can help to improve your baby’s neck and back range of motion, which insures that he receives full input from his entire world, this improving brain development is as optimally as possible.
Delay returning to work for as long as possible.
The first year of life is really important to establish the bonding and attachment process between a baby and his parents, especially with his mom. If mom or dad can be at home that first year, your baby will have more secure relationships with you and everyone else in his life.
Carry your baby around with you, wherever possible.
The physical act of moving back and forth as you walk and bend stimulates the part of your baby’s brain that tracks balance and position of the body. Babies who are carried usually walk faster than babies who are not.
Breastfeed your baby as long as possible.
Breastmilk contains all that a baby needs to support his developing brain and nervous system. It gives a baby immunity from viral or bacterial infections, it provides comfort and enhances the mother/baby bonding and attachment process. Studies have shown that babies who are breastfed have relatively higher intelligence than babies who are not.
Touch your baby whenever possible.
The physical act of touch is a great way to stimulate your baby’s brain. Infant massage is especially beneficial because it provides the positive benefits of relaxation, improved digestion and an enhanced quality of sleep. You can learn infant massage from a certified infant massage instructor, or you can read books or watch videos. An added bonus is that the people who are giving the baby massage have improved health, reduced stress, and they sleep better, too!
Respond to your baby’s needs in a timely manner.
When a baby cries, he is communicating a need for something that almost always is comfort, food, or a diaper change. The saying that “you’ll spoil a child if you go to him whenever he cries” is simply incorrect. When you respond to your child’s needs, your baby learns that mom and dad can be depended upon. He also learns that he has value as a person.
Read and sing to your baby.
Language and music are great ways to stimulate a baby’s brain. We have a specific place in our brains that processes language and music and the more that you talk to your baby, the more stimulation that his brain will receive. Classical, country or light rock music are the best choices as their beat is stimulating, but not overly so. It is important to realize that television or radio programs are not a good substitute for a real conversation. A baby is not able to follow a television or radio’s message, and most babies tune out television or radio sounds because they over stimulate a baby’s brain.
The underlying principle of this article is that the more time you spend with your baby in play and with one-on-one interactions, the more you stimulate your baby’s brain. Add some of the above suggestions to your day and everyone benefits from time spent together because it’s just plain fun!
Dr. Melanie Beingessner is a pregnancy and pediatric-focused chiropractor, a breastfeeding counselor, an infant massage instructor and a mom of three awesome kids.