Developmental milestones: building baby’s brain

Developmental milestones: building baby’s brain…

Certain milestones in a baby’s early days are vital for optimal brain development. Neurological developmental therapist OLLWYN MORAN outlines ways in which parents can help stimulate brain development in their babies.

Have you ever heard a parent proudly state, “Oh my child didn’t need to crawl, he went straight to walking!”? This may seem a sign of an advanced child, but as a neurological developmental therapist, I know that skipping a crucial stage in development actually does nothing to benefit the child.
Neurological development is how the brain develops and builds connections throughout the body, going from basic brain stem function to more complex higher brain function. This process is sequential, and from the moment of conception the brain is being constructed. However, in order to have a good, healthy brain development, each stage must be transitioned before moving on to the next stage.
I always say that building the brain is like building a house. The foundations must be firmly established in order for the rest of it to be stable and successful. The key to building your baby’s brain is to have patience. Try not to compare your child’s development to a friend or family member’s child.

Feeding

If you are bottle-feeding your baby, change position so that you feed from both hands. During breastfeeding, baby is changed from the left breast to the right breast and this allows for a lot of sensory stimulation for her. It also allows baby to grab at clothing etc with her free hand. This stimulates the corresponding parts in the brain and that is why it is important when bottle-feeding to mimic nature and allow for stimulation of both sides of the brain as well.
Omega oils are essential for development of the brain and should be included in baby’s diet. Look for one that is age-appropriate and has the purest form of the oils. Try www.shieldhealth.ie.

Tummy time

Tummy time encourages movement so that the brain pathways are stimulated. Development and learning occur when the nerve endings in the muscles and ligaments of the body are stimulated. It also encourages drainage of the tubes between the ears and nose, which can cause blockages and ear infections. This allows for the development of muscles needed for crawling and also begins to facilitate the inhibition of primitive reflexes.
Place newborns on their front as soon as possible after birth. If your baby is very small, you can lay them on their tummy down along your forearm while supporting their head from under their chin with your hand. This is a lovely way to introduce tummy time. At the newborn stage, a few times a day for about 30 seconds will be plenty.
Increase the duration and frequency when baby begins to get some muscle control. Get down on the floor at her level and get playing with her. But be mindful not to place her on her tummy just after a feed, or else you will see the feed again!
Try not to do tummy time when baby is tired or poorly, either. Let your child be the guide. Most importantly, do not leave her unattended at any time.

Massage

The sense of touch begins to develop in-utero and, although not fully developed, it is one of the most advanced abilities at birth. Early experiences of being touched and touching are incredibly important. They develop motor skills and an understanding of the physical world. They also contribute to good health and emotional wellbeing for the future.
Baby massage helps to develop an awareness of body parts (body-mapping). This is important because, at birth, baby does not know what parts belong to her.
Start massage as soon as possible after birth. Do it rhythmically and slowly, as the brain is getting so much sensory input that it needs time to absorb this information. Follow your instincts and sing and smile while massaging.
Have baby naked and lying in a warm room on a warm towel or blanket. After bathing is usually a perfect time. If using a lotion or oil, warm it in your hands before rubbing on baby’s skin.
Use circular clockwise movements, starting on the stomach and moving gradually out to the limbs. Tell your little one the names of the parts of their body that you are touching, as this really helps with left and right and body awareness. Be gentle and support the head when turning baby over. From two months of age onwards, you can vary the massage and introduce tapping with the fingers, varied intensity and strokes etc.

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Rocking and rolling

A well-developed balance system forms the basis for healthy brain and body connections. Stimulation of this system will help development of posture, movement, and a sense of position in space, motion, depth and self. Rocking and rolling movements can contribute to the development of balance.
Cradle baby in a cellular blanket with a person holding either end of the blanket, and sway very gently and slowly from side to side. This slow movement will stimulate the balance system.
Put your baby in a seated position holding her securely under the arms. Rock her from side to side, gently and slowly, and make sure not to go any more than a 45-degree angle. This will help to develop the muscles in the neck and shoulders while stimulating the balance system.
A variation on this is to rock your baby forward and backwards while in the same position as above. Again, don’t go beyond a 45-degree angle. You may need to adjust your grip slightly to support baby at the front and back, and make sure to support baby’s head, if needed.
A floor-time rock and roll session when your baby is lying on her back will also provide good stimulation for the balance system. Hold her hands and gently rock her from side to side, and do not turn her more than 45 degrees.
As your baby gets bigger and older, introduce plenty of rough and tumble play – this is not just for the boys!

Creeping and crawling

Crawling develops the three main systems in the body – seeing, feeling, moving – and actually gets them to work together for the first time to perform a deliberate task. Crawling also develops a sense of balance and builds muscles in the shoulder, chest and neck. Crawling also develops hand-eye co-ordination because the eyes follow the leading hand, and this promotes tracking, focusing and the re-establishment of binocular vision, which is crucial for reading.
To encourage crawling, get cushions, pillows, soft toys and anything else you have and create an obstacle course in your living room. Your baby will be more encouraged to participate in this fun if you get down and play with her too. As always, never leave your little one unattended.
Use a soft ball, lay your baby over it and support her at the hips. She will put her hands out in front of her and you can encourage her to walk on her hands while you gently roll her forward, making sure her hands are flat on the floor.
Limit the use of walkers and door bouncers. Ideally, these products should not be used until your baby is a proficient crawler, as they develop muscles that your baby is not ready to use yet.
Another thing to avoid is early sitting. If you have to prop your baby up in order for her to sit then she is not ready to sit.
If you have wooden or tiled floors, remember these are very slippery surfaces and can inhibit crawling. There are crawl suits available on the market now that can help your baby crawl successfully (www.creepercrawlers.com).
If your baby has skipped the crawling stage, never fear: it is not too late. You can also play the games listed above with them. Or, if you have a little play ladder, lay it down flat on the floor and encourage your little one to climb the rungs using the opposite hand-opposite leg movement. Swimming is also an opportunity to recreate the crawling stage.

maternity & infant

 

Originally posted 2015-01-26 15:30:10.