Even when your newborn seems to just be staring into space, she is actually working overtime on developing her mind. In the first year of life, the brain will double in size and your child will make amazing cognitive leaps.
The brain is made up of neurons, nerve cells resembling long wires. A newborn's brain has few connections between the neurons, but your baby is busily making new ones in response to the stimulation around her. The more connections there are, the more the brain can do.
Responding to baby's cues
At first, much of what she does is still reflexive. She doesn't consciously think, "I'm hungry, so I should cry to nurse." She just automatically does it.
However, as her cries continually elicit a response from mama and papa, she begins to form a mental picture of nursing or being held or being changed before it actually happens. These mental pictures help your baby make sense of the world and enrich her developing brain by creating new connections between the neurons.
Contrary to what baby toy manufacturers would have you think, interacting with you is baby's most stimulating and brain-friendly activity. After reviewing many studies, infant development specialist Michael Lewis, MD, came to the conclusion that the mother's responsiveness to her baby's cues was the single most important factor in a child's mental development.
Even if she has just been fed and changed, baby may cry to signal a need. If her cues are ignored, she will be unable to form a mental picture of what will happen. In addition to helping stimulate her growing mind, consistently responding to your baby's cues and meeting her needs teaches her to trust. In addition, babies who spend a lot of time in close proximity with a parent or another trusted caregiver spend more time in the quiet alert state -- the time for learning.
Studies have shown that the neurological development of babies who receive lots of touch is superior to those who don't. The connection may come from the fact that touch stimulates the growth of myelin, an insulating agent around nerves. More myelin allows nerve impulses to be transmitted more quickly, which makes for a "smarter" baby. So don't fight the urge to pick up, cuddle and enjoy your new baby!
At this age, the best brain-building game is imitation. Bring your face close to your newborn's. Copy his every expression, yawn or grimace. The mommy "mirror" helps baby develop self-awareness. You can also try to induce baby to imitate you by slowly sticking out your tongue. While most newborns can't stick their tongue all the way out, any movement of the tongue shows that your infant is playing the game!
Does my baby remember anything at all?
Most of us do not have any memories from early infancy. However, a one-month-old baby can "remember" a familiar face. For example, if you suddenly put on a pair of glasses, your baby may look puzzled or confused. According to Dr. Sears, a pediatrician and author of more than 30 books on infant and child care, "even a newborn can store familiar patterns in his visual memory bank."
In addition, babies can recognize a song, poem, or piece of music that they were frequently exposed to while in the womb.
Does my baby understand sounds?
Your baby's hearing is fully developed even in the first month of life. Most of the sounds she hears are just part of the background for her. She's already familiar with noises she was exposed to often during pregnancy, such as your dog barking or the doorbell. Your newborn is attuned to the all-important voices of mommy and daddy, and can pick your voice out from the chatter of strangers. She can also turn her head toward the source of the noise, as if looking for you.
Sears, William and Martha. The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two. Little, Brown and Company.
Ask Dr. Sears. Smart from the Start. http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/T105700.asp