Your baby’s brain development in the first 12 months is nothing short of amazing. Here’s what to expect
The first year of life is a hugely important one. It will see your baby transition from being controlled by the reflexive primitive brain to the more deliberate higher brain centers.
This happens through a variety of ways, predominantly through providing sensory experiences at the right stage for development. We are sensory begins. We are designed to move and explore our world. And in the first 12 months that is exactly what your little one will be doing.
As a newborn, reflexes control many of a baby’s actions. Primitive reflexes originate in the central nervous system and fade with age. These are automatic movements and indicate that brain functioning is at the brain stem level. These automatic responses help a baby to survive in this new and unfamiliar world until the baby is able to develop intentional motor control.
Reflexes help stimulate a baby’s brain and assist in the development of impulse control and attention.
It is important to understand infant reflexes because they serve as a sign your baby’s brain and nerve system is developing normally. Once they begin to become inhibited it shows that higher brain functioning is coming in. And that movements are now more in control and deliberate.
It is also important to pay attention to when the reflexes disappear because retained or residual primitive reflexes that last beyond infancy can signal a potential developmental problem.
Below I have outlined some of the most important baby reflexes to keep an eye out on and that you may be familiar with.
If you stroke or touch the corner of your baby’s mouth, the baby will turn his head and “root” on a nipple or bottle in the direction you stroked him. This reflex is designed to help a baby search out the breast or food source. It also helps a baby feed by preparing him to suck. This reflex generally disappears in about four months, but it could last up to 12 months.
This reflex is extremely important for feeding. When you place a nipple or bottle in your baby’s mouth to feed, he automatically knows to begin to suck. Sucking can be quite difficult to master, so even with this reflex, it takes many newborns some time to coordinate sucking, breathing, and swallowing while feeding. Also keep in mind, that though sucking can be a sign of hunger, it isn’t always, so be careful not to overfeed your baby. This reflex usually fades around three months.
When you stroke the palm of your baby’s hand, he will automatically grasp, closing his fingers into a fist. This reflex is designed to help a baby hold on in order to prevent falling. This reflex usually lasts until about 5 to 6 months of age.
Also known as the startle reflex, the Moro reflex is a baby’s way of protecting himself when startled. A loud sound, a sudden movement, a change in position of the head, or a change in temperature often startles babies. A startled baby will start crying while he extends out his arms and legs and will throw his head back. After, the baby will slowly draw back his limbs back into the body, into a position often resembling a ball or an embrace. This reflex normally disappears around 4 months of age, but could last a bit longer.
Tonic Neck Reflex
This reflex occurs when a baby turns his head to one side. The baby will instinctively straighten the arm on that side and bend the opposite arm. It is sometimes called the fencing reflex because the baby’s arms resemble a fencing stance. This reflex lasts until a baby is about 7 months old.
Often called the dance reflex, the step reflex is seen when babies look as if they are walking or dancing when they are held upright with their feet on a solid surface. This reflex fades when a baby is around 2 months.
When you touch your baby’s lips, he will instinctively move his tongue forward. This aids the baby in feeding from a breast or bottle and serves as a sign that a baby is not ready to eat solid foods. This reflex generally lasts for 4 months, but for some it could last longer.
It is highly recommended that weaning is not started until this reflex is inhibited as it can cause frustration for both parent and baby. How you will be able to identify if this is present when starting weaning is to look out for food being pushed out of the mouth after you have introduced it.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the best way for your little one to progress through these developmental reflexes is to allow for plenty of floor time, plenty of free movement, lots of sensory play and time. If you think about all the growing and brain building that is happening in the first 12 months your little ones need time for all of this to come together.
So enjoy these precious moments and have plenty of fun at the same time.
Article by Ollwyn Moran. Moran is a mum of two and founder of smart baby brand, Cognikids. Check out Cognikids’ instagram page for ideas, hints and tips for things to do with little ones @cognikids_
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