Genetic makeup, hormones, nutrition and sociocultural factors all play roles in an infant's growth and brain development. Developmental problems may arise when a child's needs are not adequately met. Children who suffer from delayed growth early on may also have difficulties with motor function as well as mental and spiritual development in their early years. Child health and disease specialist Dr. Recep Çetin has some advice about nurturing development in infants during their crucial first year.
Social and emotional development
Socialization begins at birth. From the third month on, babies can smile in response to positive interactions. Between the fifth and 10th month, strong bonds are formed between babies and the people they interact with every day. The first 12 months are critical to development. Constant interaction, stimulation and affection are required to build babies' confidence during their first year of life.
Babies express their needs by crying for the first few months. Between the second and third month, they move onto basic cooing and often try to turn toward voices in the third or fourth month. By 6 months old, babies can produce complex, but meaningless sounds, and by 7 or 8 months old finally turn the corner of simulating speech patterns. By 9 months old, they can repeat syllables, like da da and ma ma, and usually produce their first meaningful words by their first birthday.
Newborn babies respond to stimuli with primitive reflexes. From the third month onward, they begin to discover that the people around them are all unique. In the third and fourth months, they respond differently according to the emotional tones of sounds. By 8 months old, object continuity develops, and they can make purposeful responses. They begin to explore and identify their surroundings along with walking.
In the past, many believed that brain development was determined by genetics with little influence from external factors. However, according to new scientific research, environmental factors actually do play important roles in brain development. Every baby is born with about 100 billion nerve cells responsible for brain functions like thinking, seeing and feeling. No new nerve cells are ever produced in the later stages of life.
Nerve cells are connected to each other by tiny cavities called synapses and form groups that perform various functions in the brain. During the first seven to eight months after birth, the connection and communication between nerve cells is surprisingly rapid. These connections, which occur in the first months of life, are strengthened and become permanent through outside stimulation. These crucial interactions are mostly experienced with parents or those who help take care of the baby. By 8 months old, the brain systems that make up the ability to see and speak have already taken shape.
Studies have found that everything infants see and hear starting right after birth have an important influence on their views and speech skills in the future. Studies have also demonstrated the positive effects of verbal, visual and auditory stimuli on the brain and the intelligence of infants. Basically, the more variety and amount of stimuli a baby sees, the greater the benefits for brain development and intelligence.
Intelligence-enhancing activities from birth to 4 months
Give your baby 15 minutes of light massage three times a day. Provide physical contact with your baby while talking to her. You can also exercise your baby's arms and legs. Move her arms and legs gently without hurting her, being careful to not apply too much pressure. Talk to her as you carry her or change her diapers. Eye contact is extremely important.
Do not let your baby watch TV
Watching television negatively affects cognitive development. At a time when brain development is at its fastest, the TV's electromagnetic field, which adversely affects brain development in babies, could cause irreparable damage. Instead, play calm music, which is known to boost babies' mental development.
Sing songs and lullabies
Sing songs and lullabies to your baby. The rhythm of lullabies is an important stimulus in the development of intelligence. Show your baby a simple picture book. If the pictures contain bright colors that stand out, they will be good visual stimulus for cognitive development. Change her position often when she is awake. It allows her to explore different areas around her and prevents her from getting bored at the same time. As the variety of visual stimuli increases, mental development will follow suit.
Rattles to shake
Get a toy that rattles and shake it next to or behind her. This will help you determine her ability to follow sound. Auditory stimuli positively affect mental development. Make exaggerated gestures and funny sounds. Allow your baby to grab and throw toys and other objects. This allows her to learn to control the different sounds as well as learn the concept of falling and improve her motor skills.
Intelligence-enhancing activities from 6 months to 1 year
Hug her often and speak to her lovingly. Call your baby by her name. Talk to your baby, read stories and sing songs to her. Even if she does not understand what you are saying, speech increases her capacity to learn language. Sing lullabies and nursery rhymes and play music. Purchase a basket for toys, fill it and encourage your baby to play. You can place objects in front of, behind, beside and in the basket and explain aloud what object is in what position. Put a colored ball in a round container and move it. Show your baby her body parts with an improvised song. Make playdates with other children.
Build towers to knock over
Build towers from plastic jars or cubes at home, then tip the towers over with a gentle touch and repeat. Make your baby repeat the tipping process and reward her with applause. Blow bubbles and have fun popping them together. Show her new and different places and tell her what you see. Give an object to your baby by saying its name and ask her to give it back. Hide her favorite toys and make her find where they are.
Nutritional recommendations for cognitive development
Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, folic acid, B12 vitamins and antioxidants are nutrients that increase the growth and development of the brain and have a very positive effect on intelligence.
Omega-3: It plays a very important role in the development of the brain and retinas. Deep sea fish, namely salmon, tuna, Norwegian mackerel and codfish, are very rich in omega-3. Apart from fish, omega-3 fatty acids can be found in walnuts, almonds and soybean oil. Breastfeeding mothers should eat walnuts and almonds, while walnuts can be given appropriately when you start supplementing your baby.
Iron: Reduction in intelligence levels, behavioral disturbances, growth retardation, loss of appetite and breath-holding spells can be seen in babies with iron deficiencies. The iron in breast milk is the best for babies. The most important source other than breast milk is red meat, egg yolks and grape molasses. Contrary to what you might think, the iron in spinach is not actually that beneficial. Iron supplement drops are recommended after 2 months old for premature infants and after 4 months old for full-term infants to help aid the baby's rapid growth.
Zinc: This mineral is important for metabolic activities and mental development. Zinc is found in seafood, meat, liver, nuts, sunflower seeds, milk and eggs. It should be given to babies from 6 months onward.
Iodine: A mineral that can negatively affect growth and development and the normal functioning of the brain, with little or no actual need for the body. However, iodine deficiency leads to a decreased production of thyroid hormones and can also cause mental retardation. A deficiency can be prevented by feeding the baby saltwater fish once a week starting at 7 months old and using iodized salt after the age of 1. The salt is recommended to be added after the meal is cooked.
Antioxidants: Since antioxidants are naturally present in breast milk, breastfeeding the infants protects the brain from harmful substances. The main antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E and selenium, though doctors recommend using additional drops containing vitamins A, C and E after birth.