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Fascinating Baby BrainsMost of them are bald, fat and speak only nonsense. And we couldn't be more fascinated. What is going on inside the infant noggin? Here are 11 facts about the baby's brain every parent should know.
All babies are born too earlySlide 2 of 23
All babies are born too early
If it weren't for the size limitations of a woman's pelvis, babies would stay developing in the womb for considerably longer, comparative biologists have suggested.
"We have to keep our pelvises relatively narrow to keep upright," said Lise Eliot, neuroscientist and author of What's Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life (Bantam, 2000). To fit through mom's, er, escape hatch, the newborn brain is one-quarter the size of an adult's.
Accordingly, some pediatricians label a baby's first three months of life as the "fourth trimester" of pregnancy to emphasize how needy, and yet devoid of social skills, babies are at this stage. The first social smile, for example, doesn't usually appear until the infant is 10-14 weeks old and the first phase of attachment, scientists suggest, begins around five months old.
Some evolutionary biologists theorize that newborns are socially inept – and have an annoying cry – so that parents won't get too emotionally attached while the baby has an increased likelihood of dying. Of course, crying also gets a baby the attention he needs to survive.Slide 3 of 23
Parental responses wire baby's brainSlide 4 of 23
Parental responses wire baby's brain
"As long as there have been babies, there have been parents," said Michael Goldstein, a language development researcher at Cornell University. The baby's brain has evolved to use the responses of caregivers to help it develop, Goldstein told LiveScience. The newborn prefrontal cortex – the brain's so-called "executive" area – doesn't have much control, so efforts to discipline or worries about spoiling are pointless at this stage. Instead, newborns are learning about hunger, loneliness, discomfort and fatigue – and what it feels like to have these pains relieved. Caregivers can help this process along by promptly responding to baby's needs, experts suggest.
Not that a baby can be kept from crying. In fact, all babies, no matter how responsive their parents are, have a period of peak crying around the gestational age of 46 weeks. (Most babies are born between 38 and 42 weeks.)
Experts, such as neuro-anthropologist and author of "The Evolution of Childhood" (Belknap, 2010) Melvin Konner, think some early wails are tied to physical development, noting that across cultures crying peaks at the same point after conception, independent of when the baby makes its entrance into the world. That is, a premature baby, born at 34 weeks, will reach her peak crying point at around 12 weeks old, while a full-term baby, born at 40 weeks, will cry the most at around 6 weeks old.Slide 5 of 23
Silly faces and sounds are importantSlide 6 of 23
Silly faces and sounds are importantWhen babies imitate the facial expressions of their caregivers, it triggers the emotion in them as well, explains Alison Gopnik in her book "The Philosophical Baby" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009). This helps infants build on their basic innate understanding of emotional communication and may explain why parents tend to make exaggerated happy and sad faces at their little ones, making them easier to imitate. Parentese, or baby talk, is another seemingly instinctual response that researchers have found is critical to infant development. Its musicality and exaggerated, slow structure emphasizes critical components of a language, helping a baby grasp words, Eliot told LiveScience.Slide 7 of 23
Baby's brain grows like evolution on steroidsSlide 8 of 23