MHexplores just what makes your baby’s brain so special.
WORDS REBECCA WONG
The human brain is an incredible organ. Here’s what every parent should know about it.
Infants Develop Short-Term Memory Even Before Birth
While difficult to pinpoint exactly what infants can remember (especially when they have yet to develop speech), a 2009 Child Development journal study shows that babies develop short-term memory before birth, notes Dr Furene Wang, associate consultant at National University Hospital’s Division of Paediatric Neurology. “At 30 weeks of gestational age, foetuses are habituated to a combination of noise and vibration via the mothers’ abdomen. It is found that the foetus responds with movement to unfamiliar stimuli but does not move much when exposed to familiar stimuli, a sign of recollection at work,” she explains.
Neurons involved in memory typically form at the start of the third trimester,
with memory skills continuing to take form during late infancy (closer to 12 months old).
For instance, a baby between six to 12 months of age may show signs of fussiness
when brought to the doctor’s office for repeated vaccinations.
“Long-term memory, however, does not begin until about age three, as brain structures like the hippocampus (for long-term recall) have not developed until then,” Dr Wang says.
Your Child’s Motor Development Depends on the Brain
When you see your baby start to walk and move his hands, that’s a sign of his motor skills developing — all thanks to the hard work of his brain! Motor skill development can be divided into two categories: gross and fine motor skills. “For gross motor development, an infant can momentarily hold his head up when prone by four to six weeks old,” observes Dr Wang. “By three months, there would be head control when he is pulled to sit, and he would start rolling over by five months and sit independently by seven to eight months old. He can also stand without support at around 10 months and walk independently by 13 to 14 months.”
As for fine motor development, your baby’s hands will unfist by three months of age, with him beginning to mouth his hands at four months. He’ll also start reaching for objects at six months and be able to transfer an object from hand to hand a month later. At 10 months, expect him to have a pincer grip and begin casting objects too.
No Two Children are the Same
Although the sequence of motor development is the same, developmental rates vary from child to child. “Development is intimately related to the maturation of the nervous system,” says Dr Wang. “No amount of practice can make a child walk until his nervous system is ready, but a lack of practice can slow the learning process.”
Dr Wang also stresses that although average ages of development have been documented,
drawing the line between normal and abnormal growth can be tricky. Nevertheless,
the further away a child is from the average age, the likelier the case of abnormal growth.
Physical Touch Does Wonders for Brain Development
“Development delay is frequently seen in children receiving inadequate or inappropriate sensory stimulation, such as orphaned or premature infants that require isolated care in incubators,” Dr Wang observes. “This is seen as the lack of physical touch results in higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, affecting memory and learning.” Kids deprived of touch also have altered levels of oxytocin and vasopressin — hormones essential in social bonding. Therefore, besides providing enough nourishment and intellectual stimuli, remember to show affection to your bub. Go all out with the hugs, kisses, cuddles and even baby massages!
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