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Building Baby's Brain: What Parents Can Do

Diane Bales, Ph.D.

What Parents Can Do
Every parent wants a smart child. But we used to think a baby뭩 brain was completely formed when she was born. We didn뭪 think we could do much to help the brain grow.

Now we know the brain does a lot of growing after birth. Billions of brain cells are already formed at birth. These cells connect with each other during the first years of life. And what happens to a baby affects the kinds of connections her brain makes.

The Two Basic "Rules"
The growing brain needs two things: Safety and good experiences. Parents who want to build their babies?brain power should follow these rules:

Make your baby뭩 world safe.When a baby feels upset, the brain makes a chemical called cortisol. Too much of this chemical can slow down your baby뭩 brain growth.
You can keep your baby from feeling stress by making her feel safe. Take away things that could hurt her. Take care of her every time she cries. And do things at the same time every day so she learns what to expect.

Do things with your baby. The brain learns best when it is challenged with new things. Showing your baby new things helps the brain make new connections. Even simple things like a trip to the library or grocery store can help build your baby뭩 brain.
Don뭪 overdo it. Too many new things, or things that push too hard, will frustrate your baby. A frustrated baby feels stress, and stress can slow down brain growth

What Can You Do?
The good news is that building brain power is easy. Lots of things you already do can help your baby뭩 brain grow. Even simple things like cuddling or reading are important. When you rock your baby, her brain makes emotional connections that help her get along with other people. When you read out loud, the brain pathways for language and reading get stronger. These little things make a lot of difference for brains.
Here are some ways you can build your baby뭩 brain power:

Get good prenatal care.The baby뭩 brain is growing even before birth. Pregnant women should eat healthy food. Don뭪 drink or use drugs when you뭨e pregnant, and have regular doctor뭩 check-ups.

Pay attention to what your baby eats. A growing brain needs good food. Breast milk has the right nutrition for a growing brain. If you don뭪 breast-feed, feed your baby a formula with iron. Always hold your baby when you feed her! Feeding time is also a good time to talk to your baby.

Ask questions. Many people can help you learn how to be a good parent. Your baby뭩 doctor can answer questions about how she is growing and changing. Your librarian can help you find good books on parenting. Your county Extension Service office can help you learn more about being a good parent. Don뭪 be afraid to ask questions. You don뭪 have to know everything!

Remember, it뭩 never too late! The brain never stops growing. Children and adults of all ages can learn from new things.

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