How parents can support healthy development
Your baby’s brain is built over time: it starts during pregnancy, and continues through to early adulthood. And like a building, it needs a strong foundation.
Did you know…?
Your baby’s brain wiring is not fully connected at birth. It is very active, changing and developing in response to what’s going on all around them. It is the day-to-day experiences—activities like playing, being read to, learning, and interacting and being responded to by people—that helps to develop your baby’s brain.
How well all the wiring gets set up—that is, how your baby’s brain develops—will affect her ability to learn language, solve problems, and do well in school. Later in life, it can affect her physical and emotional health and how she gets along with other people.
Relationships are crucial. Loving, consistent, positive relationships help build healthy brains and protect your baby’s brain from the negative effects of stress.
Even very young infants can experience stress when the places they live and play in feel unsafe, or are frightening. “Toxic” stress—which is much more serious than short-lived, everyday stress—is caused by persistent problems like extreme marital conflict, poverty, abuse, neglect, being exposed to violence, having a parent who misuses drugs or alcohol, or having a parent with an untreated mental illness. Toxic stress is harmful to your baby’s developing brain.
YOUR BABY’S DEVELOPING BRAIN NEEDS:
Responsive, nurturing, positive experiences: Everyday experiences help shape your baby’s brain—from your daily routines to the people your baby comes in contact with. Babies need to live and play in healthy spaces with opportunities to learn and grow.
Fun activities: Talking, reading and singing to your baby are all fun and easy ways to help her grow. So are simple games like getting down on the floor for some tummy time with your young baby, or playing peek-a-boo with your 5-month-old.
Good food: Whether you breastfeed or use formula, think of feeding time as a brain-building time too: making eye contact, smiling, and having skin contact are all positive experiences. As your baby grows, be sure to offer iron-rich foods and foods with a variety of nutrients, like fruits and vegetables.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Respond to your baby. This is especially important when your baby is sick, hungry, upset, or just needs
some comfort. But babies also reach out for you in countless positive ways—by babbling, making sounds, or smiling. When you respond in a loving and consistent way, you help baby’s brain develop.
Provide a safe and loving home for your baby. Develop daily routines that your baby can count on. Keep your home calm.
Help your baby explore his surroundings, both inside and out. Play helps babies learn, and you are your child’s first playmate.
Get regular health care for your baby. Your baby should be seen by a health care provider on a regular basis. Keep vaccines up-to-date and talk to your provider about development and what to expect next.
Develop community connections. Get to know the services and programs available in your neighbourhood. Playgroups and drop-ins are great places to meet other parents, and many have visiting professionals who can answer questions.
Choose quality child care. When you need to be away from you baby, make sure you leave your baby with a caregiver who will care for your baby like you do.
Reach out if you need help. If you feel stressed, overwhelmed, depressed or need some support caring for your baby, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Talk to your health care provider, your family or contact a local community agency.