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What Role Do Parents Play in a Baby's Brain Development?

By Shellie Braeuner ; Updated June 13, 2017

Babies' brains are impressionable during the first few years of life. According to Zero to Three, a website by the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, this plasticity is a double-edged sword. If a baby gets everything he needs, he has a better chance of living up to his potential, but babies who miss key elements or experiences might carry those deficits into adulthood.


One of the primary ways that parents contribute to brain development is through their genetics. Your baby’s brain begins to develop just a few weeks after conception. The earliest stages of growth are determined by the genes both parents contribute. According to Zero to Three, genes provide the hard-wiring map for the brain. DNA gives the child intellectual potential, and might determine how fast the brain ultimately processes and synthesizes information. But genes are not the only factor in cognitive development.


Nutrition is the fuel for a growing brain. According to First Steps, a website by the Rochester Area Foundation for Kindergarten Readiness, a baby's brain starts developing just a few weeks after conception so the initial fuel comes from what the mother eats. Nutrition for brain development starts early in pregnancy. According to First Steps, your baby makes between 50,000 and 100,000 new brain cells every second between the fifth and 20th week of life. When Mom doesn’t eat right, the baby suffers. After birth, the brain continues to grow and develop. The best food is breast milk. But for some women, breastfeeding isn’t possible. Ensure that you baby gets the right formula. Contact your pediatrician if your baby refuses milk or stops gaining weight.


A baby who feels safe and secure is free to develop to his greatest potential. According to, when a baby feels stress, his brain creates adrenalin and the chemical cortisol. High levels of those hormones prevent the nerves from forming connections and can actually damage neural connection points. To help your baby develop to his fullest potential, keep his environment as stress-free as possible. Don’t let him cry for long periods. Try to create a schedule so he will know what to expect as often as possible. Hold and comfort your baby often to add to his sense of security.


Your baby forms neural connections as she uses her brain. So providing her with a range of positive experiences helps her form those connections. The good news is, this doesn’t take a lot of gadgets or highly technical skills to teach your baby. The University of Georgia suggests that you simply spend time talking and playing with your baby. Expose your baby to a range of textures through toys and blankets. Make sounds with toys and objects around the house such as cups. Tell your baby what you are doing throughout the day. While doing laundry you might say, “Look, here’s your dress. It’s pink with a yellow flower.” Most importantly: Constantly remind her that she's loved.

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