Growing Together: Enjoying Your Baby's Developmental Stages - Part Three

Apr 3


Sally Michener

Sally Michener

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This article covers the following topics: Make Your Own chart, Seven Ways to Build a Brighter Baby, 1. a smart womb start, 2.a smart milk start, 3. smart moves, 4. smart play, 5. smart talk, 6. smart listening, 7. smart foods and Infant Development. There will be one more part to this article, be sure to keep an eye out for it.


Let's look again at that developmental elevator. A baby reaches each developmental floor equipped with certain competencies. How these competencies flower into skills depends upon interaction with the care giving environment baby finds on that floor. If the interaction is responsive and enriching,Growing Together: Enjoying Your Baby's Developmental Stages - Part Three Articles baby gets back on the elevator with more skills, and the ride up to the next floor is much smoother. Because baby reaches the next floor with more skills, the interaction on the next level of development is even more rewarding.

Make Your Own Chart

A valuable exercise during the first two years is to make your own growth and development chart like the one shown in this chapter. Using a large poster board, list the area A valuable exercise during the first two years is to make your own growth and development chart like the one shown in this chapter. Using a large poster board, list the areas of development down the left-hand side and monthly stages of development across the top. Divide the sheet into blocks and plot your baby's skills. Concerning cognitive development, fill in what you think is going on in baby's mind. For simplicity, you may wish to combine social and language milestones, as we have done on our chart and throughout. Charting your baby's development not only improves your skills as a baby watcher, it adds your overall enjoyment of growing together.

Seven Ways To Build A Brighter Baby

You can make a difference in your baby's brain development. New insights into how a baby's brain grows show that parents can have a profound effect on how smart their child later becomes. The brain grows more during infancy than at any other time, tripling its weight and reaching approximately 60 percent of its adult size by one year. As the brain grows, nerve cells called neurons proliferate, resembling miles of tangled electrical wires. The infant is born with much of this wiring unconnected. During the first r, these neurons grow larger, learn to work better, and connect up with one another to make circuits that enable baby to think and do more things,

Here's how these circuits work. The tips of each neuron resemble fingerlike feelers attempting to make connections with other nerves. During development two important improvements are made on this beginning nervous system. First, the number of connections between neurons increases, and second, each neuron acquires a coating called myelin, which helps messages move faster and insulates the nerve, preventing short circuits. The new and exciting field of neurobiology tells us that the more connections the nerve cells make, the smarter the child's brain. Smart-start parenting means helping your baby's brain make the right connections.

1. A Smart Womb Start

At the moment sperm meets egg, your baby's brain growth takes off. In fact, a baby's brain develops faster during the nine months in mother's womb than at any other time in the child's life. The development of the fetal nervous system is affected -- for better or worse -- by what's in mother's blood during the nine months of pregnancy. Inhaling or ingesting substances called neurotoxins, such as cigarette smoke, excessive alcohol, and many kinds of drugs, has been shown to harm the baby's brain development and increase the risk of having learning and behavior problems later on.

Besides the "don'ts" of drugs, alcohol, and nicotine during pregnancy, there are some "do's" that affect the developing fetal brain in a healthy way. A maternal diet rich in brain-building omega-3 fats is smart nutrition. While it takes very poor maternal nutrition to harm a baby's developing brain, in general, the better you nourish your body, the better you nourish your baby's growing brain.

2. A Smart Milk Start

Research has shown that breastfed babies enjoy an intellectual advantage over bottle fed babies. Even more exciting, breastfeeding research suggests a dose-response relationship: The more frequently and longer a mother breastfeeds, the smarter her kids are likely to be. Here are two reasons that breastfed babies enjoy a brighter beginning.

* Smarter fats.
Mother's milk is rich in brain-building omega-3 fats, such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), ARA (arachidonic acid), and cholesterol. Dubbed "smart fats," these nutrients contribute to the growth of the baby's brain tissue, especially myelin, the fatty coating that insulates each nerve fiber, enabling messages to travel faster and more efficiently between brain circuits.

* Smarter communication.
As discussed in my article "Getting Attached: What It Means," the responsiveness of caregivers to the cues of the infant is a powerful builder of brighter babies. Breastfeeding is an exercise in baby-reading. A breastfeeding mother learns to read her baby's cues of hunger and satisfaction since, unlike the bottle-feeding mom, she can't count the number of ounces of milk she is giving. The perk of extra intuition hormones that a breastfeeding mother enjoys helps her be more sensitive, turned in, and more appropriately responsive to the cues of her infant. Since breast milk is digested faster than formula, breastfed babies feed more often and therefore enjoy more interaction and touch time, which are also powerful influencers of an infant's emotional and intellectual development.

3. Smart Moves

Why does baby wearing build brighter babies? Answer: Their brains grow better. Babies learn a lot in the arms of busy caregivers. Carried babies cry less. What do they do with this extra time and energy? They learn . Carried babies show an increase in awake-contentment time, also called "quiet alertness" or "attentive stillness" -- the behavioral state in which an infant learns most by being able to best connect and interact with his environment. And the more babies interact with their environment, the more meaningful are their neurological connections. Babies divert the energy they would have spent on fussing into thinking. During baby wearing, mom gives her baby a 180-degree view of his environment and allows him to more easily scan his world. Babies who are carried learn to choose -- picking out what they wish to look at and shutting out what they don't. This ability to make choices enhances learning.

To appreciate how baby wearing helps infants learn, let's use a principle from Parenting 101: Get behind the eyes of your baby and imagine the world from her viewpoint. First get into a stationary infant seat or crib and imagine the world you see. You lie unattended, flailing your arms, arching your back, and wasting a lot of energy in purposeless motion. You don't learn much laying motionless gazing passively at a meaningless sky or ceiling.

Now imagine being worn in a sling. You are now what we call a "sling baby." With mom you travel down the aisles of the supermarket. You see the same variety of shopping attractions that mom sees. You're being carried through the park, where you watch kids play. You're with mom when she's poking around the house or talking on the phone. You go where you mom goes, see whatever she sees, and hear whatever she hears.

Because it is believed that baby wearing is valuable for a baby's intellectual development, every new parent should get a demonstration on how to wear their baby in a sling. Later these parents will say, "When I pick up the sling and put it on, my baby lights up and raises her arms. She knows that soon she'll be in my arms and in my world." One parent has said that whenever I mentioned the cue word "go" to my nine-month-old, he would crawl toward the wall where the baby sling was hung. This baby's connection between the word "go" and the tool for going, the baby sling, is known in infant development jargon as a pattern of association. Like thousands of short-run movies filed in the infant's growing neurological library, patterns of association are rerun whenever baby is exposed to a situation that reminds him the original "movie."

Sling babies fuss less, learn more, and are just plain easier and more fun to be with. (For more about the benefits of baby wearing, see my article "Baby Wearing: The Art and Science of Carrying Your Baby.")

4. Smart Play
Babies learn about their world through play, and parents can learn about their babies' preferences and capabilities at each stage of development by watching them play. By observing and sharing in baby's play, parents can begin to get a faint idea of all the decision-making and problem-solving processes going on in baby's developing mind. As you grow with your baby, you will learn age- and stage-appropriate brainy baby games, toy tips, and the concept of "toys for two" -- toys that help you interact more meaningfully with your baby.

5. Smart Talk

How you talk to your baby has a profound effect on your baby's brain development, and here's where parents, especially mothers, can really shine. As you ride the developmental elevator with your baby you will learn many brain-building tips for talking with your baby.

6. Smart Listening

It's not only how you talk to your infant but also how you listen that helps build a brainy baby. The responsiveness of caregivers to the cues of their infant is a powerful enhancer of brain development. When it comes to learning to be a good listener, here is where attachment parenting really shines.

Once upon a time, the "fear of spoiling and being manipulated" mind-set gave rise to a philosophy of infant care called "baby training". The lower-touch, cookbook style of parenting promises to help babies fit more conveniently into their parents' life-styles. New insights into infant development have shown how detrimental this approach can be. The current buzzword among infant development specialists is responsiveness, which means tuning in to the cues of the infant and responding sensitively.

You need to learn listening tips, the most important of which is responding appropriately, knowing when to say yes and when to say no, and how to tell the difference between a need and a want. Infants whose language is listened to and whose needs are responded to appropriately learn to trust their environment, and trust is one of the earliest and most valuable brain-building blocks.

7. Smart Foods

New research is confirming what parents have long observed: What children eat affects-- for better or worse -- how they act, think, and learn. Since a baby's rapidly growing brain uses 60 percent of the total nutritional energy consumed by the infant, it stands to reason that the healthier the food, the healthier the brain. The food baby eats affects not only how well the brain grows, but also how well the nerves send messages to one another via biological bridges called neurotransmitter. Best foods for growing brains are:

* Smart fats.
The best fats come from breast milk, with its omega-3 fatty acids, including the smart fat DHA. Low-fat diets are not smart for babies. Nature is smart. Around 50 percent of the calories in mother's milk comes from healthy fat. Since a baby's brain is 60 percent fat, and since fats are the major structural components of the brain cell membrane and the insulating sheath around each nerve, getting enough fat and the right kinds of fat can help build a better brain.

* Smart Carbs.
Also known as "mood foods," carbohydrates (sugars) help growing brains in two ways: Carbs are the primary energy source for the nervous system; and Carbs regulate neurohormones and neurotransmitter function. A steady supply of "smart Carbs" (such as complex carbohydrates or fiber-filled Carbs) improves alertness and concentration.

* Other smart nutrients.
An adequate supply of vitamins, namely vitamin C, folic acid, and the other B-vitamins are important for optimal brain growth. Minerals, namely calcium and iron are also important nutritional brain-building blocks.

The parenting style you practice, the way you play with your baby, and the food you feed your infant, all stack up to be important blocks for building your baby's brain.

There will be more articles on infants, breast or bottle feeding and other related topics to follow. So please keep an eye out for more of my articles.

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