Babies. Just the word can make you smile. And that baby smell (the other one) — it’s more relaxing than a visit to the Dalai Lama. But what goes on inside those little, developing brains can be puzzling.
Luckily, we know from brain scans and observational studies just how much, right from the start, infants are tuned in and reacting to the events and people around them. And we know what provides the “nutrients” a young’un needs to develop his or her full intellectual and emotional potential. The short menu is LARIS + L: love, attention, responsiveness, interaction, stimulation and then more love. If you, Mom and Dad, provide those “nutrients,” it makes all the difference.
Frequent, affectionate interaction, with touch, eye contact, lots and lots of words and songs, is essential. Children learn social behaviors, language, facts and ideas from love and human interaction. Studies show that they DO NOT learn as well from TVs, digital games or electronic programs — even if those are delivering information specifically designed for infants and children.
A new study presented this month at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting looked at 894 children ages 6 months to 2 years and found that 20 percent of them were spending at least 28 minutes a day playing with a handheld digital device. And for every 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, the kids had a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay.
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Other essentials for nurturing your infant’s brain development include good nutrition and a routine of sufficient sleep.
As your child switches from breast milk (exclusive during the first 6 months, then complemented with solids up to 12-24 months) or formula to solid foods, you want to make sure he or she gets a full range of nutrients essential for cognitive development. Nutrients (especially choline, folic acid, zinc, iron and special fats like omega-3 DHA) actually can modify gene structure and expression, effecting brain growth and development. To make sure your infant and toddler gets those building blocks, a varied diet rich in vegetables, healthy oils such as extra-virgin olive oil, fiber from grains and cereals, and proteins from antibiotic- and hormone-free meats and salmon will do the trick.
A calm routine of sufficient sleep also allows the brain to develop as it should. Newborns sleep about 10.5 to 18 hours a day, with irregular wake times lasting one to three hours. Up to 12 months, babies need nine to 12 hours at night. They also take 30 minute to two-hour naps up to four times daily. Toddlers need about 11 to 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours, with decreasing naptimes. When kids are deprived of necessary sleep, some studies indicate that it stunts neurodevelopment, is linked to hyperactivity and reduces school performance.
So envelop your child with affectionate words and touch; talk, sing, play soothing music; and read to your child, even as a young infant. Eliminate digital devices from cribs, strollers and little hands! Make sure to provide sufficient nutrition and establish a healthy sleep routine. These steps not only provide a secure emotional base, but help brain development at every stage and age during your child’s formative first years.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit www.sharecare.com.