Cognitive and Emotional Development of the pre-born & a few months after the birth

Prof.Lakshman Madurasinghe- Consultant Psychologist and author of “ Clinical Psychology”

Parts 1 and 2 appeared in Nov and Dec, 2008 issues of Mum & Me magazine.

Environment after birth
A growing body of scientific evidence shows that the way babies are cared for by their mothers will determine not only their emotional development, but the biological development of the child's brain and central nervous system as well. The research also shows that in addition to shaping the brains of infants, mother's love acts as a template for love itself and has far reaching effects on her child's ability to love throughout life. To mothers holding their newborn babies it will come as little surprise that the 'decade of the brain' has lead science to the wisdom of the mother's heart. In the research conducted at UCLA school of a major conclusion of the last decade of developmental neuroscience research is that the infant brain is designed to be molded by the environment it encounters. In other words, babies are born with a certain set of genetics, but they must be activated by early experience and interaction. The child's first relationship, the one with the mother, acts as a template, as it permanently molds the individual's capacities to enter into all later emotional relationships. Others agree. The first months of an infant's life constitute what is known as a critical period - a time when events are imprinted in the nervous system. "Hugs and kisses during these critical periods make those neurons grow and connect properly with other neurons." Says Dr. Arthur Janov, in his book Biology of Love. "You can kiss that brain into maturity." A child is born with more than 100 billion brain cells. Before the age of 5, long, thin fibers called synapses grow and connect the brain cells, forming the neurological foundation of trillions of connections upon which a child builds a lifetime of skills. The final number of synapses is largely determined by a child's earliest experiences. Brain growth early in life is unparalleled. At no other time in life does the brain master so many skills, or does experience etch so deeply in the mind. It is during these first few years that potential vocabulary, math and logic skills are largely determined and emotional stability is greatly affected. Positive emotional, physical and intellectual/language experiences in a child's earliest years are just as important as a healthy diet and a safe place to live. To encourage the

healthy development of a newborn, parents need to know that it is the earliest interactions with themselves and other caregivers that actually affect the way a baby's brain becomes "wired" for later learning. These interactions determine the potential for the way children will learn, think, feel and behave for the rest of their lives. Dr Karp, a paediatric professor at UCLA School of Medicine in California and author of the best-selling book "The Happiest Baby," noticed that most newborns were fussy and foetus-like in comparison two a three month-old baby, illustrating the massive developmental leap babies make during the first three months of life. "Newborns can't smile, coo, or even suck their fingers. At birth, they're really still foetuses and for the next three months they want little more than to be carried, cuddled, and made to feel like they are still in the womb," he says.

Nurturing Your Child’s Development from 0 to 2 Months
The report, From Neurons to Neighborhoods of the American Academy of Pediatrics outlines the Childs development as follows: One of the most important tasks of the first 2 months is to help new- borns feel comfortable in their new world. They are learning to regulate their eating and sleeping patterns and their emotions, which help them feel content, safe and secure. Even as newborns, babies can play in many ways. They can connect sounds with their sources, and love when you talk and sing to them. Play helps babies learn about the world around them. It is also an important way they connect with you, helping them to develop a strong attachment and promoting healthy social development. Newborns use their gestures (body movements), sounds and facial expressions to communicate their feelings and needs from day 1. They use different cries to let you know they are hungry, tired or bored. They ask for a break by looking away, arching their backs, frowning or crying. They socialize with you by watching your face and exchanging looks.

What steps to take
Offer your baby lots of different objects for him to look at, touch and even grip in his palms. He can focus best on things that are 8 to 12 inches away. Play “tracking” games by moving yourself and interesting objects back and forth. First he will use his eyes to follow. Eventually he will move his head from side to side. This helps strengthen his neck muscles as well as exercise his visual abilities. Observe carefully. This will help you figure out what your baby’s cries are telling you. Soothe your baby. When you respond to your baby’s cries and meet his needs, you let him know he is loved. You can’t spoil a baby. In fact, by responding lovingly to his needs, you are helping him learn skills now that allow him eventually to soothe himself. You are also promoting a strong bond and healthy brain development.

Charting Your Child’s Healthy Development: 2 to 6 months
Babies are very interactive at this age. They use their new language and communication skills as they smile and coo back and forth, and enjoy babbling, starting with “ohs” and “ahs” and progressing to P’s, M’s, B’s and D’s. Your baby may babble and then pause, waiting for you to respond. They also love to imitate, which helps them learn new skills. For example, mom sticks out her tongue, baby imitates and mom does it again. This also teaches them about the back and forth of conversation. Babies have greater control over their bodies. By 4 to 6 months, they may be able to roll both ways, become better at reaching and grasping and will begin to sit with assistance. They also begin wanting to explore their food and help feed themselves. Touching and tasting different foods is good for learning and for building self-confidence. Babies this age love to explore. They learn from looking at, holding and putting their mouths on different objects. At about 3 months, babies begin to reach for things and try to hold them. Make sure all objects are safe. A toy or anything else you give her shouldn’t fit entirely in her mouth.

What steps to take
Place your baby in different positions—on her back, stomach, and sitting with support. Each gives her a different view and a chance to move and explore in different ways. . Let your baby play with your fingers and explore the bottle or breast during feedings. As she grows, let her handle finger foods and help hold the spoon. Introduce one toy at a time so your baby can focus on, and explore, each one. Good choices include a small rattle with a handle, a rubber ring, a soft doll and a board book with pictures. When your baby babbles, both talk and babble back, as if you both understand every word. These early conversations will teach her hundreds of words before she can actually speak any of them. Engage in back-and-forth interactions with gestures. For example, hold out an interesting object, encourage your baby to reach for it and then signal her to give it back. Keep this going as long as your baby seems to enjoy it. As your baby gets bigger and develop rapidly over the coming months , bear in mind that you as a parent has a tremendous responsibly upon your shoulders to help him develop so that in later years he will be able to functional optimally and become a valuable citizen. While helping him develop and you create a nurturing atmosphere, bear in mind the following general guidelines given by Julie Thombari:

1. Be warm and loving. Through warm and loving interactions, such as touching, rocking, smiling, singing and talking, young children feel safe and secure with their caregivers. Touch is especially important because it stimulates the brain to release growth hormones. 2. Be responsive to your child's sounds, expressions and movements. Infants cannot use words to express themselves; therefore, they feel secure and loved when they are responded to in other ways. They begin to trust that when they cry they will be comforted, when they are hungry they will be fed, and when they smile and laugh they will be played with. 3. Talk, read and sing to your child. Making up stories, singing songs, and describing things to your child encourages speech and language capacity to grow, even if a child can't understand the meaning of the words. Researchers have found that when mothers frequently spoke to their infants, they learned almost 300 more words by age 2 than their peers whose mothers rarely spoke to them. Studies also find that how you read to older children makes a difference. By encouraging participation, such as asking questions, pointing out pictures and predicting outcomes, children's brains are even more stimulated and challenged. 4. Establish routines and rituals. Daily routines and rituals are reassuring for children. They help children learn what to expect and how to understand the world around them. For example, a toddler may know it is nap time because her mom closes the curtains and sings a song. Children who have safe and predictable interactions and activities have been found to do better in school later on. 5. Encourage curiosity, safe exploration and play. Interactions between a parent and child form the basis for all subsequent learning and growing. As infants begin to crawl and walk, they begin to explore the world beyond their caregivers. Parents should encourage safe exploration and play, and be receptive when a child needs to return to them for security. Play is recognized as an important opportunity for children to learn and explore.

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