“Children come into this world ready to learn, love and play.”
– Ingrid Bauer
This quote is my mantra for every day that I get to go into my practice and work with not only pregnant woman, where 9 months of growth and development start for their precious babies, but with newborns, toddlers and older children.
Hi, my name is Dr Chantel da Silva , this is my second blog post for VitaSoul, read the first – Chiropractic care during Pregnancy. My practice Rise Chiropractic has two offices in Cape Town. One being in the Table View area and the other at the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in association with two Gynecologists Dr Daniela Krick and Dr Lyn Kenneth.
Often I get asked why I became interested in paediatric chiropractic care. When I got into University I had no idea that baby chiropractic was even a thing. In my 5th year while studying our paediatric module for that year, I remember our lecturer discussing the idea of adjusting newborns after birth, the impact this could have on a child’s brain development and what that would mean for the rest of their life. This concept laid a seed that only germinated for me 3 years into my working career, when my nephews (5 years old and 6 months at the time) were involved in a car accident and I just knew that they needed to be specifically adjusted due to the strain on their necks and spine. From that moment on I started taking whatever paediatric and pregnancy care courses I could find.
Babies Brain Development
To focus on supporting your babies brain development there are important concepts that underpin the recommendations I list in this blog. It is SO important not only to do these things listed, but to understand why!
- Brain development begins before birth – Your babies brain is built over time starting from conception, this needs a strong foundation in the health and wellness of the mother.
- Nutrients – Good supply of certain nutrients provides the building blocks for brain growth.
- Experiences – Everyday experiences and repetition shape and reinforce brain connections.
- Relationships – Loving, positive and consistent relationships frame these brain connections and protect your babies brain from the negative effects of stress.
The brain is made up of different structures that control everything that we do – from breathing and seeing to problem-solving and our emotions. Each of these structures has millions of brain cells, called neurons. Neurons communicate with each other by passing chemical messages over tiny spaces called synapses. As messages are repeated over and over, more connections and neural pathways are formed. Think of these connections as the brains wiring.
A baby has many more of these brain cells than adults and more than they will every have in their life time, this gives your little one an enormous capacity to learn and thrive. However, a babies health is also most vulnerable during this window of opportunity. Ever heard of the saying – “Use it or lose it”? This is true for the brain, if the innate capacity of the brain is not used, and those experiences repeated, in a loving positive environment – the connections are not able to be hardwired in the brain. It is a babies environment that creates different stimuli to get these neurons firing and wiring.
“Environment primes the brain.”
In the first years of life, specifically the first 1000 days, a period from conception to a Child’s 2nd birthday, the building of the brain structures, wiring-firing and making connections happens extraordinarily fast.
The 1,000 days between conception and a child’s 2nd birthday offer an extraordinary window of opportunity to build thriving futures.
Children grow and develop at different rates. Some have special needs that require help, but all children need the love and support of the people in their life – most especially their parents. There are a number of important factors that influence brain development. Here is a list of what I feel are simple ways for you as a parent to prioritise and optimise your child’s full potential.
Look after your own health
By the 24th week of pregnancy, baby’s brain is already made up of 10 Billion cells – and these cells thrive on nutrition from the mother. Your health status, specifically that of your nutritional levels at conception, has the ability to influence the trajectory of growth and development of your baby. Nutrients such as folic acid, iron, zinc and iodine, as well as protein and fatty acids play a vital role in building a baby’s brain during pregnancy. Focus on your supplementation and nutrition during pregnancy, as well as before you plan for your pregnancy. Have a look at this link on a previous VitaSoul Blog on the best supplementation during pregnancy.
If we think of nurturing our bodies as woman, we cannot merely focus on nutrition, but also nurturing our mental health, and engaging in nurturing movement. Try meditation, saying positive affirmations to your baby and getting good sleep while pregnant. Take daily walks and do some gentle pregnancy yoga to get your body moving in a good way.
Healthy gut, healthy brain
Taking probiotics during pregnancy, postpartum, while breastfeeding and supplementing your baby on formula or toddler later has huge benefits for the whole body. The research is piling up on the amazing role bacteria has in the health of our gut and its direct influence on the brain. Studies show links between emotional and cognitive centres of the brain and the gut, how bacteria are able to signal to the brain and influence various processes to do with neurotransmission, neurogenesis and even behaviour.
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Build a bond with your baby before birth
Your unborn baby is already getting to know you, so building relationships with them starts before birth for both mom and partner. When you feel your baby move, try stroking your belly.
Talk to your unborn baby, as they can actually hear voices. Pick a song you like and sing it to your baby every day while you are pregnant. After your baby is born, they will be able to respond to your voice. Sing the song you have been singing and watch your baby listen and even calm down.
Kangaroo care right after birth
Kangaroo care or skin to skin contact, has been scientifically proven to be one of the best things we can do for our moms and babies directly after birth. Something so simple can be so effective, and the data is so convincing that the worlds leading organisations such as the WHO, American Academy of Pediatrics, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the Neonatal Resuscitation program recommend skin-to-skin contact. An essential requirement is maternal-infant ‘togetherness’ from the moment of birth, achieving this may mean that the father is the one that provides the skin-to-skin. Besides positive neonatal outcomes such as better body temperature regulation, and higher blood oxygen levels, skin-2-skin has long-term benefits like improved brain development and better parental attachment. There is no doubt that Kangaroo care ticks all the boxes for building healthy brains right after birth. It is also super important to continue using skin-to-skin after the initial days post birth, and even well after the 4th trimester.
Good food for breastfeeding moms and babies
If you are able to breastfeed, breast milk is the best food for your baby especially for the first 6 months of life or for as long as possible. Getting the right help from a certified lactation consultant if you are having any issues from as early on as possible, is vital. Breastfeeding cannot guarantee that your little one will be the next Einstein, but countless studies show a very positive relationship between breastfeeding and brain development. Many studies have shown that babies who are breastfed have higher IQ’s as children and teens. Breastfeeding involves more than just providing nutrients to a baby, it involves touch and nurturing interaction, it helps to strengthen a baby’s sensory and emotional wiring which are super important for both cognitive and socio-emotional development.
If you are breastfeeding be sure to add more DHA omega-3 fatty acids to your diet or supplementation regime. I suggest you stay on your prenatal vitamins and focus on a healthy varied diet.
Whether breast or formula-fed, use feeding time as a brain boosting tool by: making eye contact, smiling, and being skin-to-skin.
Have your babies spine and nervous system checked
The Journal of Neuroscience (2008) states that, although the first year of life may be a period of developmental vulnerability it may also be a period in which therapeutic interventions would have the greatest positive effect. I believe that spinal and nervous system checkups for newborns should be a routine aspect of paediatric care. Between positioning in utero, the passage of the baby through the birth canal, the pulling of the head and neck before the shoulders come out and birth via c-section, babies go through a lot. Subtle shifts in the spine and skull can occur during birth journey. These shifts can interfere with feeding, digestion, comfort, sleep and development.
Chiropractors like myself, can find those subtle shifts and correct them before they become an issue.
Bond and engage
Do this by always responding to your baby in a loving predictable way, especially when they are upset, hungry or sick. By doing this you will create a routine and expectation that will in turn make your little one feel safe and that they can always count on you to meet their needs.
Give your little one quality time through reading, cuddling, playing and building a lifelong bond and connection. Babies need their parents and caregivers to bond and engage with them.
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Prioritise tummy time
It is so incredibly important that babies start to have short bursts of ‘tummy time’—time spent lying on their tummies, from as early as the day you get home from the hospital. This simple act is a wonderful brain booster that not only builds up their neck muscles, but stimulates many different senses like vision, balance and touch too. It also activates brain stem pathways which are critical for healthy brain development.
For more info on tummy time click on this LINK
Note: if your baby does not appear to like lying on their stomach, this could be an indication of spinal or muscular irritation and it is best to have them checked by a chiropractor who works with infants.
Be aware of your babies head shape
There is a myth that an infant with an odd-shaped or flat head is not an issue and will ‘right itself’ with time. But new studies indicate that changes to the shape of the skull can be the first sign that a baby is susceptible to developmental delay, particularly motor skills. The number of babies with a flat head or what is better known as positional plagiocephaly has grown significantly since 1992, due to the SIDS guidelines, or the back-to-sleep campaign.
If their head looks uneven or you notice flat areas, this can indicate restrictions between the skull and the soft layers that cover the brain and spinal cord. A healthy brain requires good movement of the skull and spine; when this movement is hampered in any way, brain and nerve function are also affected. It is best—whether your baby’s head is odd-shaped or not—to have your newborn’s spine and skull checked as early as possible by a chiropractor who works with babies.
There has been a link found between lower Vitamin D levels in babies with positional plagiocephaly, so I suggest that my patients use vitamin D drops to support strong bones and teeth. If you are breastfeeding, you can take these supplements, however if your little one is on formula you can add the supplement directly to their bottle.
Massage your baby
Touch is a powerful tool, like skin-to-skin it is simple, free and easy to do. Massage is a wonderful way to promote bonding, help your baby to relax and encourage a calmer nervous system. Alternate soft, allover body massage with firmer pressure holds, working slowly down one arm, across the torso and down the opposite leg to the foot. Repeat this on both sides. Doing this is great for calming the nervous system, particularly if your child is upset or over-stimulated when it is time for sleep. Use good massage oils or lotions that are gentle and non-toxic.
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Stimulate your babies visual system.
Babies absolutely love to stare for seemingly ages at things, sometimes its the shadows in the corner to who knows what. Start with black and white shapes as newborns see only in black and white, then move on to different charts with contrasting shapes and colours that are placed at different distances.
Free range play
Free-range play is a cute way I like to describe unstructured play, where there are no rules and little ones are free to move and be spontaneous. Free-range play is critically important for brain and body development. Unstructured play promotes decision-making skills; builds gross motor skills; helps kids work through fears and stress; teaches conflict resolution skills; and helps creativity soar. Play time comes so naturally to children, your role as a parent is to provide adequate time in a safe and stimulating environment.
Product featured: Viridian Synbiotic Children’s Powder
Good food for toddlers
Toddlers need enough calories, proteins and nutrients for the best health and for optimal brain development. Most children will get the right amounts of nutrients from a balanced diet, but that is easier said than done. So supplementing with vitamins and minerals can be a critical thing to consider. It’s vital for them to get adequate amounts of nutrients such as iron, zinc, iodine, choline and vitamins A, B6 (folate), B12, and D.
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So in conclusion the development of the brain is influenced by many factors, including a child’s relationships, experiences and environment. Focusing on the importance of your little ones growth and development from conception to their 2nd birthday provides an amazing opportunity to ensure they thrive and reach their full potential. We can be sure that all children are different, who progress at individual rates, and their neurological development naturally seesaws. Helping your babies brain develop in healthy ways is a lot easier than you think. Have fun learning and growing with your little one. They are the greatest teachers.
I’ll leave you with this quote…
“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow. Yet we forget that he is someone today.”
– Stacia Tauscher
Wishing you a well adjusted journey