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From the moment we find out we're pregnant, pretty much everything we do is for the good of the baby. We change the way we eat, we take the right prenatal vitamins, we exercise and focus on being healthy. For 10 long months, our lives are about keeping them safe. Then they're born, and our lives change in a million new ways. We painstakingly decide on how to feed them, what to feed them, how and where they'll sleep. We agonize over what diapers they'll wear and what soaps and lotions are safe to use on their delicate skin. And everyday, we help their little brains development in myriad ways. That's one of the most daunting tasks as a parent, right? We're responsible for helping their brains develop and grow. If you want to boost your baby's brain power, these daily activities can play a big part.
Baby's brains are really cool. They're not really hardwired for anything (besides language), so it's like a big blank slate! During your baby's first years, they'll develop trillions of brain-cell connections, called neural synapses. We can help develop and "wire together" these synapses on a daily basis, with simple activities and experiences. It's one of the most important jobs we have, but it can also be one of the most fun and rewarding.
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Babies develop their language and speech skills with your help! When your baby starts to coo and gurgle at you, respond with exaggerated and delighted vocalizations. Draw out your syllables slowly, and speak in a higher pitch than your normal voice. We know it sounds silly, and you make look a little crazy doing it, but every baby talk word is helping your baby develop their language skills.
When you baby points at something, make a point to follow their hands with your eyes and acknowledge whatever it is they're pointing at. This shows that you're interested in what they're interested in, and confirms that their interests are important!
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Spatial learning is super important to a developing brain, and your baby will begin to understand spatial parameters by having the freedom to explore a bit. It can be intimidating to let them wonder and roam, but you're still nearby, and not hovering over them also helps foster some independence.
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Identify the foods your baby is eating as they eat them, and show excitement and pleasure as your baby learns to feed themselves. Have the same positive attitude about nap times and bedtime, too. If you exhibit positive behaviors around activities that can be difficult, it will create positive associates in their brain.
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Singing to your baby is such a fun and simple way to boost your baby's brain power. The songs can help develop your baby's rhythm and language patterns. And by choosing songs that have accompanying hand movements, you're helping your baby integrate sounds with motor skills.
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The loving, gentle touches a baby feels when mom or dad is massaging them can help decrease their stress and help build their feelings of emotional security. Massage can also help young babies grow and get stronger! In fact, research has shown that preemies who are massaged three times a day leave the hospital sooner than babies who aren't massaged.
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Developing a baby's receptive language (understanding spoken words) is more important in infancy than developing their expressive language, and reading to your baby is a great way to start building those skills. Start with books with big, colorful images and easy, repetitive words and word play, and always say the noises! Babies get a kick out of hearing the noises. There are so many books to have at home for your little ones, but these are some of our favorites.
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We know it can be hard, giving your baby your full, undivided attention all of the time. And it's not always possible, especially if you have other kids at home! But when you're with your baby, giving them your focus and being attentive helps them attach to you emotionally and makes them feel secure. This in turn allows them to focus their own energies on other things like exploration and learning.
Not all baby toys are created equal, and truth be told, your baby doesn't need very many toys! Look for toys that allow your baby to explore and interact. Toys like building blocks are great for developing something called "if-then reasoning". If your baby puts a large block on a small block, what happens? It falls over. But the next time they put the small block on the large block and it stays, their developing brains will "hard wire" that reasoning.
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Your facial expressions, your body language, your attentiveness, your spoken language, and your touch all validate your baby's lovable nature, and once again, give them a sense of emotional security. That's such a huge part of healthy brain development, and healthy emotional development as well.