Boost Baby’s Brain!
You've heard it before: babies' brains are like sponges during those first few years of life. But did you know that you can bolster Baby's brain development even before she's born? And best of all, it can be fun, too!
Get Healthy Before Baby
Hop on the prenatal care train, Mama, because it’s the first step you can take to start your baby’s development off right out of the gate. Dr. Diane Bales, a human development specialist at the University of Georgia, says women should not only take folic acid when trying to conceive, but also during pregnancy and into breastfeeding. This amazing B vitamin helps develop the neural tube, which later becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord (it begins developing during the first eight weeks of pregnancy!). Go for the prenatal vitamins versus just a daily vitamin, which contain more of what you need. And we know we sound like a broken record, but avoid smoking, alcohol, and eat a healthy diet.
Did you know that babies can remember and recognize voices heard in the womb? Pretty cool, huh? “I really believe that babies in the womb are very, very smart,” says Jackie Silberg, a child development expert and author of 125 Brain Games for Babies. Parents can read a story or talk through a megaphone while rubbing Mommy’s belly (hello in there!), creating a bond with their baby before he or she can even match a face to the voice.
Sing, Sing a Song
Baby may not have a xylophone stick in his tiny hand, but he is equipped with certain patterns and concepts that are found in Mozart’s music. This has contributed to the success of educational musical videos like Baby Mozart, which work to improve babies’ verbal, spatial, memory, and creativity skills through fun, musical play. “You’re developing literacy and language with music. They understand even if they can’t talk. And actions and songs together use both sides of the brain,” says Silberg, suggesting a combination of finger plays and a favorite tune.
Breastfeed (if Possible)
Although many baby formulas contain
DHA and ARA, two naturally occurring lipids in breast milk,
breastfeeding is still best. “Breastfeeding improves the physical health and immune system and accelerates development of certain parts of the brain,” says Dr. Bales. Aside from providing babies with all the nutrients they need for the entire day, breastfeeding contributes to proper facial and speech development, according to La Leche League International’s book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Any benefits to a baby’s speech and communication abilities automatically boost brain power.
Let the Games Begin
Ready for baby games but not sure where to start? “Give them things that are just new enough and challenging enough,” suggests Dr. Bales. “Go one step beyond what they can do.” This way, you capture your baby’s attention while still pushing him to learn and explore. Dr. Bales also says there is a certain way to play with babies that allows for more quality interaction: “Be face to face with them, and get down on the floor.” And don’t be afraid to get silly! (Here are 10 fun ways to play with Baby.)
Use Love Language
“The thing I suggest most is just communication with your child as much as possible, especially when they’re younger,” says Silberg. So read together, Mama, have a conversation, use alliteration, rhyme, say the alphabet! Vary tone and volume, use baby talk, and say your baby’s name often to encourage response to sounds and word recognition. Even if your baby isn’t talking yet, he or she is taking in the language, learning new words, and making brain connections.
Be Affectionate and Responsive
If you hold a baby too much, you’ll spoil them. Nonsense! It’s a fact that babies need touch and human contact to feel safe. Being held and cuddled builds trust and develops closeness, both of which will stick with a child throughout life. An interaction as simple as holding your baby when he or she cries creates a lasting emotional connection. Hugging, kissing, even massaging all help build bonds and create the loving atmosphere that babies need. So hold that baby!
Don’t worry about finding something new to do everyday—it’s all new to Baby! Going to the grocery store or playing with a cardboard box can be just as new and exciting to babies as going to the zoo or playing with a more expensive toy. It is important to engage all of your baby’s five senses and allow her to taste, touch, see, hear, and smell as much as possible.
Not your autograph, Mom (though you are a star to us). Sign language. “More and more, sign language is being used to teach babies to read,” says Silberg. By giving babies a sign for an object or concept in a book, you’re providing them with symbolic gestures that allow them to “read” the book, she says. This, of course, carries over into everyday life. Signing gives babies the power to communicate at a very young age when their verbal and fine motor skills are not yet fully developed. Having this alternative form of communication prevents them from getting frustrated at not being able to put into words what it is they want or need.
Relax (aka Chill Pill)
Here’s where the chill pill comes in. As a parent, you’ll already be doing a lot to boost your baby’s brain power without having to refer to other experts or techniques. You’re the best expert on what your baby responds to, learns from, and enjoys. “How you interact with the baby early on is as important as anything else,” says Dr. Bales. When you focus on forming a good relationship with your little one, both of you will grow.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN