written by: Keren Perles
• edited by: Wendy Finn
• updated: 6/19/2014
If you watch your baby, you will see that he seems to be learning new things every day! Read on for research-based information about brain development and growth in babies.
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Brain development in babies consists mainly of dendrite formation, synaptic pruning, and myelination. These three processes work together to help your baby's brain grow and develop over the course of the first year of their life.
A newborn’s brain contains over 100 billion neurons, or brain cells. Each neuron forms small branches called dendrites. Dendrites allow neurons to communicate across synapses, or connections between neurons. About 80 percent of dendrites form after birth, and a large percentage of them form during the first three years of life.
What does this mean about your baby's brain development? During the first three years of life, your baby’s brain is going into overdrive in forming these dendrites. To do this, it takes in information from the world. When you stimulate your baby – through talking to her, holding her, singing to her, massaging her, or affecting her senses in any other way, you are helping her brain to form these dendrites.
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If the synapses between neurons continued to form and stayed intact, they would eventually slow down the brain’s functioning. After all, each time that the brain would try to receive information, it would have to sort through millions of unimportant synapses first.
Therefore, the brain undergoes a process called synaptic pruning. During synaptic pruning, synapses that are rarely used are “pruned" from the brain, leaving behind only the more important synapses. This enables the synapses that remain to become stronger. If a certain synapse pathway is used very often, the synapses are strengthened. That means if you continually provide your baby with important stimuli, such as shapes, pictures, or spoken language, he or she will be more easily able to retrieve the information when they need it.
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Myelin is a fatty material that coats neurons and helps to speed up the electrical impulses that flow through the neurons. In other words, neurons that are coated in myelin work more quickly and effectively than neurons that are not coated in myelin. Infants and then children, who are shown love, both verbally and physically, produce more myelin to coat their neurons.
Dendrite formation, synaptic pruning, and myelination work together to help your baby’s brain develop. Remember: research shows that giving your baby love and stimulation can actually improve her brain development. Brain development in the early stages of life is intense, and your impact on your baby's brain development should never be underestimated.
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Facts and statistics taken from “Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten," by David Perlmutter and Carol Colman.
Should your infant be sitting yet? Speaking her first word? Responding to her name? This series will clarify your infant's development - physical, social, and emotional. Includes milestones for the first year.