Early stimulation really makes a difference!
Did you know that at birth a baby’s brain contains virtually all the nerve cells it will ever have? Although before birth, your baby’s pattern of wiring has slowly started, many more brain connections need to be made. Experiences build these brain connections. We as parents need to find the time to cuddle, to talk to and to provide our infants with stimulating experiences. Research shows that rich experiences provide rich brains.
The most important years in this regard are the first 3 years. When your baby is born, he can see and hear and respond to touch, but only dimly. The connections between the neurones are unclear and weak. Over the first four months of life, your baby’s brain explodes with new connections.
Parents are the first and most important teachers. Experience is the architect of the brain, and this is where you as parents can play an essential role. How can we stimulate our babies?
Focus on the senses…
- Provide baby with a variety of `looking’ objects. Black, white and red seem to be the colours that young babies are most attracted to.
- Faces are an early object of focus. Use makeup to enhance facial features e.g. lipstick encourages easier focus. Use facial expression when communicating!
- Make mobiles and change them regularly.
The auditory sense
Learning to identify noises and to notice what he is hearing will help your baby differentiate between sounds and to later imitate them. Talking to you baby significantly speeds up the process of learning new words. Most babies relate to soothing sounds, gentle talking, reading, music and higher pitched sounds. Vowel sounds are the first sounds that your baby will begin to imitate.
- Make your own rattles with empty containers. Fill them with rice, pasta, beans sugar, sand, seeds, bottle tops, paper clips or bells.
- Practice locating sounds by speaking or making noises at different parts in the room.
- Be aware of constant noise (TV and radio). Your baby’s auditory system tends to shut down if it is bombarded. This doesn’t help his listening skills. So do make time for quiet times!
The tactile sense
Your baby will start learning about the world around him through his sense of touch right from birth. Encouraging feely experiences helps to make bodies and hands more controlled and discriminative.
- Give lots of hugs and cuddles.
- Massage is good for both physical and emotional well being and is great for after bath time. It’s soothing, relaxing and makes your baby more aware of his body.
- Put your baby on different textured surfaces. Sheepskin is a favourite for most babies. Towels, carpets and silky cloths all provide different sensations. It is ideal to put your baby on these surfaces with no clothes on, making sure that he is warm enough to do so.
- Tickle and touch your baby’s body with a variety or different textures – tickle with a feather, shake on baby powder, wash legs and arms with a sponge or flannel, squeeze little hands and feet in play dough.
Remember to put your baby on his tummy as often as possible, as this position strengthens his neck and back muscles, and will prepare him for later sitting.
Towards 3 months your baby will have better strength to push up and lift his head. At new born stage, put a rolled up towel under his chest, and gently push his pelvis down and backwards to help him lift his head. A mirror is also fun to use for baby to look into when in tummy lying position.
It is also important to build up tummy muscle control. This will balance back muscle control which is essential for sitting later. Hold your baby under his shoulders and gradually pull him up slowly into sitting, encouraging him to bring his head forward. As he gets older, and develops more control, pull him up using his hands.
This usually begins from back to side at around 3 months. Play on the floor with your baby, lying next to him with toys on either side and gently nudge him to roll over. Rolling is important in the development of balancing skills.
Don’t forget to dance with your baby. Spinning, rocking and tipping all stimulate the vestibular system, important for later balance and sensory integration.
By occupational therapist Liz Senior of the Clamber Club.