Your newborn is born with every brain cell she will ever have for life. To master her world, she needs to form connections between these brain cells. Those connections begin to develop from the last few weeks in utero. From birth to 18 months, connections occur at a rate of 1 million per second!
Initially, having very little control over her movements, your baby will overcome her involuntary reflexes, generate muscle tone and activate balance reactions to gain control of her movements.
In the early weeks, primitive reflexes control your baby’s movements. During this period, these reflexes affect your baby’s movement so there is very little voluntary movement.
The grasp reflex keeps her hands clasped most of the time. By 8 weeks her hands are open some of the time so that by 4 months she can reach or grasp with them.
The Moro, or startle reflex, is elicited in response to her head falling backwards and results in her hands clasping into fists and her arms flying outwards and then inwards.
When she turns her head to one side, the ATNR, or fencing reflex, causes the arm and leg on that side to stretch out. This reflex is the start of eye-hand co-ordination as it allows your baby to see her hand. At this age she can only focus on objects 20cm away (close to her arm’s length).
Stimulating your newborn’s development
The way to enhance your baby’s development, is to stimulate her. In the newborn days, less is more, and for most babies, just being alive is enough stimulation.
However, these are the top 5 activities you should do with your newborn:
- Place your baby under a mobile. Watching black, white and red (or other contrasting colours) develops visual focus. Your newborn can see 20cm at birth and needs to develop her intraocular muscles for 20/20 vision.
- At birth, your baby is curled up in a position we call physiological flexion, and her first movement task is to strengthen and develop her back and neck muscles. She learns to do this by spending time on her tummy when she’s awake. Place your baby on her tummy for at least 5 minutes at a stretch every time she is awake. She will have to strengthen her neck muscles to lift her head and look around her. This is an essential precursor to rolling and crawling as it develops her extensor muscle tone.
- Talk, talk, talk. Speak to your baby a lot – when she feeds or has her nappy changed or is playing between sleeps. Hearing language in the context of a relationship exponentially enhances language development AND intelligence.
- Baby Massage is a wonderful activity for many reasons. It enhances your baby’s sense of her body, which is linked to motor planning and intelligence. Massage is calming for fractious little ones. Baby massage improves bonding and connection between parent and baby. It also enhances sleep. So, for many reasons, set aside 10 minutes after your baby’s morning nap for a baby massage.
ALSO SEE: Baby massage guidelines you need to know
- Finally, and most importantly, you are your baby’s best toy. Touch, laugh, talk, and make eye contact! Engage with your baby – it’s the best thing you can do!
Meg is an Occupational Therapist with a special interest in babies and toddlers – specifically irritable infants; sleep problems, emotional engagement difficulties and fussy feeding. Meg is the co-author of Baby Sense and the Sense-series books. She is passionate about her work with babies and toddlers and delivers global online services in the parenting space. She lives in Jersey and is married with three children. Visit www.megfaure.com to learn more about her.