Early Brain Development (0 to 2 years)
Have you ever wondered how fast a baby grows and learns things? I get amazed daily by the activities my kid chooses to do, how he interprets the signs from his surroundings and acts like a pro even at the age of 2.
Did you know that 90% of the child’s brain development takes place in the early years of their life?
If you know me then you must be aware of how keen I have been since my pregnancy days to raise a healthy child. I strongly believe that the child’s healthy growth is completely in our hands apart from our genetics. Hence, we mothers not only pass on our genes to the baby but also IQ through proper nutrition and stimulation exercises.
A baby’s brain development is based on the environment, genetics and nourishment she/he receives in utero and via breastfeeding. The right stimulation i.e. infant brain exercises also boost infant cognition. This is called FeedIQ.
Let’s see how nutrition and stimulation can help in the child’s brain development during the initial years.
Role of Nutrition during Pregnancy
We often hear from our elders and doctor about taking care of our food intake during different trimesters. I was advised to eat a mindful balanced nutritious diet. There’s a myth that says we should eat for two people when pregnant. In fact, one should not look at the portion as eating healthy food is more important. Only during the 3rd trimester, should the intake be increased to meet the body’s demands. Also, eating right food plays an important role in baby’s growth and overall development.
So when a mother takes care of what she eats, she is literally feeding IQ to her baby!
- Include a variety of foods in your diet
- Be mindful of what you eat, portion size doesn’t matter
- Don’t forget to take daily supplements as suggested by your doctor
- Try to add all food groups in your diet from the very beginning
- Apart from protein, iron, and calcium, DHA or omega 3 is very important for brain development
- Always remember the developing baby gets all the nutrition from the mother
- Most important, avoid drinking alcohol and smoking as that impacts the learning ability and growth of the baby
Importance of Breastfeeding
Mother’s milk is baby’s first food and is best for newborn’s development and immunity. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for first 6 months. Breastmilk not only provides nutrition to the baby but also passes on the disease-fighting substances that protect the baby from illnesses.
No matter how difficult it seems, the best gift you can give your baby is exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months. Various researchers have found a connection between breastfeeding and cognitive development.
- A mother’s milk consists of all the essential nutrients
- Breastfeeding helps in emotional bonding, further improving the brain development
- Mother’s body produces the antibodies which pass on to the baby through breastmilk and provides immunity
- Breastmilk also has DHA which is an important nutrient for brain development
- Research says breastfed babies score higher on IQ tests
You may want to read Breastfeeding Challenges are Common!
Apart from essential nutrients, the environment (or stimulation) also plays a vital role in baby’s development. As I said earlier, child’s initial 2 years are the most crucial for the proper growth and development of the brain. A baby’s brain doubles in size in the first year. And by the age of two, the brain has up to twice as many nerve connections as it will have in adulthood. Hence, the role of brain exercise is an important part of baby’s brain development.
Types of Brain Exercises to develop baby’s IQ
Every mom will agree with me that following a nutritious diet during pregnancy is not easy when you face food aversions and mood swings. Similarly, breastfeeding is a natural biological process which has its own set of challenges. However, let’s talk about activities which you can do with your baby to stimulate his brain; fun for both mom and the baby.
Let’s see some age-appropriate brain exercises which you can do for your baby to boost his skills and brain development.
Activities for 0 to 6 months old
- Vision – Young infants can’t differentiate colors, so for vision, you can show black and white drawings. Once they are 2 months old, you can put them in front of the mirror while giving tummy time. You can also place some small green plants around them, once they start rolling. Pee-ka-boo is my son’s favorite game till now. I started doing it around 3 months and in return, he would give me the most beautiful toothless smile.
- Hearing – I like the idea of using white noise for newborns as that makes them feel secure. You can play any soft music or even sing to your baby. Talking to your baby using wide facial expressions and hand movements works best as that also strengthens the bond between the parents and the baby.
- Touch – You can use various objects for developing their sense of touch. I used to give small clothes of different textures in his hands to touch and feel. My son started loving water when he was 5 months old. He could not sit properly but during bath time he loved to splash water. Let them touch and feel various shapes.
- Cognition – Let your baby explore his surroundings. Don’t stop if he’s putting his hands in his mouth as that’s his way of understanding how the body parts work.
Activities for 6 to 12 months old
- Vision – This is the best age to introduce books with big colorful pictures. You can show them things in the book and point to the same things in real. You can also roll the ball on the floor for the baby to follow and crawl towards.
- Hearing – Start reading stories to them, they will love it. You can bring in variations in the voice like emphasizing, whispering, singing, talking slowly or fast, and changing the pitch too. My son loved the tearing sound of the paper and would laugh every time he heard that sound.
- Touch – I introduced sand-play at this age using kinetic sand. Babies at this age want to touch and hold everything that comes their way. And then they put these things in their mouth as that’s their own way of exploring objects.
- Cognition – I did many DIY activities with my son to improve his cognitive skills. Mess-free painting, putting sticks in the bottle, sorting toys, cause and effect games etc. to name a few.
Activities for 1 to 2 years old
- Gross motor skills – Babies grow rapidly during this age and their brain development is also at its peak. Encourage them for more independent play. Most babies start walking during this time and they want to test their physical ability. My son’s favorite activity was pushing the chair around the house and later on, he started climbing up the chair.
- Fine motor skills – The best way to help develop fine motor skills is to let them eat their food on their own either with hands or using a spoon. Another way is to give them crayons and let them test their scribbling ability. However, keep a watch as that’s when they would want to use the walls as their canvas.
- Social & Emotional development – Allow your kid to mingle with other kids by arranging play-dates. This is the age when separation anxiety sets in and your young toddler will not let you leave his side. Be considerate and cooperative, as a lot is going on inside their little minds. They are at a stage where they start understanding instructions but are unable to control their impulses enough to obey.
- Language & Vocabulary – Introduce new words and arrange to play around that word for a couple of days. Instead of talking to your child, start talking with your child. Start with 1 word, then 2-word sentences gradually increasing to 3 words. Repeat their words and form a sentence to assist their language development. By the age of 2, most kids start forming 3-word sentences to indicate their needs. And their vocab increases from 5-20 words to 150-300 words by the age of 2.
You may also want to read Reason for speech delay in toddlers!
Watch this cute video of Nemit learning new words using picture book at 22 months!
I would like to sum up my post by saying that we should not ignore the importance of nutrition and stimulation for boosting a child’s brain development and improving IQ.
If you liked this post, don’t forget to share with your friends and family. Tell me in the comments section what activities you include in your child’s day to day play.