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Busy Parent's Guide to Smart Babies - Part 2

May 19, 2008
The first years of life lay the neurological foundation for intellectual growth into adolescence and adulthood. This time represents a unique window of opportunity for learning. From the moment of conception, the neurons (nerve cells) of the brain multiply faster than any other cells in a baby's body. The rapid pace of brain development continues into early childhood: at birth, the brain weighs 25 percent of its adult weight; by age one, 50 percent; by age two, 75 percent; and by age three, 90 percent.

The brain has approximately 200 billion neurons. A long-held theory that no new neurons can be created in adulthood was recently overturned - although some scientists dispute the new findings. In any case, the prenatal period is when the vast majority of the brain's neurons are created.

Each of the brain's neurons is connected to roughly 5,000 others. In general, the more dendrites (branches between neurons) and synapses (connections between neurons) the brain has, the greater its processing power. More pathways mean information can travel in a number of ways, opening the door to faster and more complex thinking.

This is true in the adult, but not in the infant. Your baby's brain actually has more neurons and synapses than yours - but only because it hasn't passed an important developmental stage, known as pruning, in which the brain deletes unneeded neural connections in the interests of organization and efficiency.

What can I do during pregnancy?

Your baby's sense of hearing finishes developing 20 weeks into pregnancy. So this is the time to begin providing auditory stimulation. At around 28 weeks, you and your partner should be able to feel your baby's movements through Mom's tummy. This is the time to begin tactile stimulation. You can also try visual stimulation starting from around 28 weeks.

Auditory Stimulation

*Use Baby Plus if you can afford it.
*Play relaxing music - classical, jazz, chill-out and songs designed for meditation or yoga are all suitable. Avoid hard rock and music with a lot of dissonant chords.
*Read, talk and sing to your baby as often as possible (Dad as well as Mom).

Tactile Stimulation

*Massage your baby through Mom's belly.
*Respond to your baby's kicks by pressing back gently.

Visual Stimulation

*Try shining a flashlight at your belly, once in a while, to see if it gets a reaction.

Optimize Your Mood

*Mom, try to be as calm and happy as possible. Your mood has a direct effect on the chemicals secreted into your bloodstream. Too much cortisol (the stress hormone) is bad for your baby's developing nervous system.
*Plan some fun, relaxing couple time - a gentle hike or trip to the beach; a meal at your favorite restaurant or a hotel stay. If you can, go on a babymoon during the second trimester, when moms tend to have the most energy.

Optimize Your Diet

*Eat a healthy, balanced and varied diet.
*Don't take over-the-counter or prescription drugs without your obstetrician's approval.
*Don't drink alcohol, or keep it to one small measure of wine or beer on very special occasions.
*Don't smoke or take recreational drugs.
*Take folic acid (starting from one month before conception) and DHA supplements.
About the Author
Madeleine is the Managing Editor @ Brillbaby.com
Got a question or concern? Email the Editor, who is currently teaching her own baby and blogging about it.
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