How does your baby’s brain develop?
Why do some children develop learning disorders such as dyslexia, when others do not? What factors influence healthy infant brain growth? How could we use this information to help children around the world in developing nations who are suffering from not just physical but also cognitive stunting? These are the types of questions that we ask at the CHILD Lab at Children’s Hospital Colorado led by Dr. Sean Deoni.
As we grow, our brain undergoes changes that are nothing short of miraculous. We progress from being able to only communicate in cries and grimaces to being able to speak in words and full sentences to eventually being able to use language to express complex thoughts and ideas. As we learn how to talk, walk, even button our coats, our brains adapt rapidly and grow bigger and stronger from the experience.
The fetal brain develops at an incredible rate during pregnancy. About 251,000 neurons are added to the fetus’ developing brain every single minute. Babies are born with about 100 billion neurons. Those neurons make up all the brain cells they will ever have. These neurons in your baby’s brain are incredibly active, constantly connecting with one other and creating trillions of synapses. The brain grows at an accelerated pace, more than doubling in magnitude to reach 60% of its full adult size by the time a baby reaches their first birthday celebration. In fact, if babies’ bodies grew at the same swift pace as their brains, they would weigh 170 pounds by one month of age!
The Fastest Brain Growth
It is important to take advantage of this period of time in your child’s development because the span of time between birth to age three is the fastest rate of brain development across the entire human life span. By the time they are three years old children’s brains have formed 1,000 trillion connections between neurons. Talk with your child often and expose your child to as much as possible. Even allowing your child to observe the world around him is enough to spark these neuronal connections.
While it’s obvious that our brains are changing over time, it is far less clear what exact factors influence this growth. Nobody knows for sure what specific ingredients are necessary to build a healthy brain. Does brain growth depend on the nutrition of the mother during pregnancy? Are certain nutrients more important than others? How do certain environmental factors like maternal stress levels, socioeconomic status, and birth order impact brain development?
In a routine visit to your pediatrician’s office, your child is measured and weighed and these values are compared to those on a growth chart to tell you if your child is growing at a typical rate. Currently, there is no analogous way to chart the growth of your child’s brain to let you know if your child is developing cognitively at a normal pace. A key aspect of what we do at the CHILD lab is creating this guide for what healthy child brain development looks like. This is an incredibly important undertaking because this guide would also allow us to gain a greater understanding of how diseases and disorders impact brain growth.
We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Deoni in depth. Watch the Replay here!
If you would like to learn more about what we do at the CHILD Lab please check out our website http://www.childimaginglab.org/Child_Imaging_Lab.html If you are interested in taking part in a study, click on the Current Studies link to learn more about specific research that we are doing and find out if you or your child would be eligible to participate.