Living Well: First 3 years crucial for brain development
What you do in the first three years of your child’s life builds the architecture of his or her brain. That feels like a lot of pressure as a parent, but remember, interacting with your baby, talking, playing and cuddling with them is often enough.
During the first three years, the brain builds connections to help problem solve, communicate and interact with others. Environmental stimulation helps create neurons and synapses in the brain. Your baby is born with approximately 86 billion neurons, according to a “Biosystems” study; this number doubles by the infant’s first birthday. By age 2 or 3, your baby’s brain actually has more connections than yours. That’s because as we age, our brain prunes unused connections.
“The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are important. Connecting and bonding is the key,” said Kevin Monahan, pediatric physician assistant with MRH Medical Clinic.
To help your babies develop connections in their brains, talk to them. Tell them what you are doing and why, sing to them and listen and react to their screeches and gurgles. If your child is in daycare, make sure it’s a stimulating environment where he is held and played with throughout the day. Take your baby with you to new environments, letting her feel wind on her face and sand between her toes.
A child’s brain is still developing into late adolescence, according to studies from the National Institute of Health. During adolescence, the brain grows as big as it is going to get, but it still matures into the mid to late 20s.
“Development is cumulative in a child’s life,” Monahan said.
There are set milestones babies and young children are expected to reach in the first five years of life. Meeting these milestones is a good way to know your child is on track mentally, physically and socially.
For example, by age 1, most babies will repeat sounds or actions to get attention, put out arms or legs to help with dressing, say a few words, such as mama, dada or wave goodbye. They also can find hidden things, look at the right picture of an object when it is named in a picture book and follow simple directions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By age 2, the CDC gives the following list to indicate your toddler is right on track with brain development: sorting shapes and colors, completing familiar rhymes, playing make believe games, building towers of blocks, naming objects in a picture book, saying sentences with two to four words and knowing the names of common people and body parts. If you want to track your child’s milestones, the CDC makes it easy with its Milestone Tracker Mobile App.
“Development occurs through the interplay of experiences, biology and behaviors,” Monahan said.
Memorial Regional Health offers pediatric services through the MRH Medical Clinic and Rapid Care. To schedule a pediatric well child exam, call 970-826-2480.
When it opens later this year, the Memorial Regional Health medical office building will recognize supporters with a hand-forged iron tree of life.