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Dads Needed for Construction Project

This article was prepared by Ngala for Offspring Magazine, WA’s own family lifestyle magazine.  This article can be found in the Winter 2010 edition of Offspring Magazine

Do you know why babies are born when they are? Well look at the size of their heads and look at where they’re coming from, ask any mother and they will help you understand.

When your baby is born right from the very beginning they have 100 billion brain cells (the most they will ever have) and are ready to begin exploring their expanding world with your help.

These first tentative explorations are very important for how your baby will learn to approach further discovery as they develop through toddlerhood, to kindy and beyond. You can help lay the foundations that mean your child will be more able to cope with the challenges life deals them, for instance, in their teenage years. 

But lets back it up a bit and have a look at why these early years are so important, then what you can do to give your precious ones a great start (don’t worry; no qualifications in brain surgery needed).

Those 100 billion brain cells amount to a brain of about 400 grams (please don’t check this at home). By the time your baby is 3 years old their brain will have almost tripled in size to be 1100 grams. That is amazing, but what is truly amazing is that an adult brain weighs 1300-1400 grams, which means that a baby’s brain will grow in its first 3 years more than it does in the whole of the rest of its life.

So during these early years you have a fantastic opportunity to help your baby develop a healthy brain by ensuring that baby is given a broad mixture of; the right ingredients, experience and rest to make this happen.

  1. The experiences baby thrives on engaging with you and being responded to appropriately. The “appropriately” bit is often the hardest here, particularly for first time parents, as you may get confused about what baby is asking of you. Try to relax here and remember that this is a new relationship for you and baby, and you are both learning each others language. Baby needs your love   to grow, so lots of eye contact, skin on skin warmth, changing  nappies, the sound of your voice and comfort to get through those emotional moments when no one really knows what’s going on. All of this touching and connection with you is effecting those brain cells or neurons by forming connections in the brain that will be built on every time that experience is repeated. These neural pathways (dendrites) are like the branches of a tree and as these branches start to link up they form synapses. This is all part of the chemistry of forming connections in you r baby’s brain, but also connections between you and your baby, connections that will help your baby develop resilience.
  2. You’ll also notice as baby grows they enjoy repetition. Things like reading the same story over and over or they just can’t get enough of that funny voice dad puts on sometimes (lets face it dad you’re a funny guy). So the reinforcing of these positive experiences helps baby to feel loved, so keep doing it as long as your precious one wants it and time will allow.
    Rest is very important for a healthy brain. Most of a babies growth is done whilst they are asleep and a lot of brain activity happens whilst they are in REM sleep. Some scientists think that it is during this time that a lot of the learning of the day is reinforced by the brain re-enacting it through dreams. So watch out for those tired signs and help your little darling to learn how to sleep.
  3. For all of this growth that is happening it is very important that your baby gets his or her fair share of the good oils. For the first 6 months all baby needs is breast milk as this is tailored to change as baby’s growth and nutritional requirements change. You can help your partner to establish a good supply of milk by being aware and supportive through the establishment of breastfeeding. You can encourage your partner to eat a healthy balanced diet by preparing snacks or frozen dinners if you’re not going to be around during the day. As baby starts on to solids they too need to develop a healthy diet and it needs to include fat (gradually introduce milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter, fresh meat, fish, nuts**...) as this is one of the main building blocks of a healthy brain. Each of those neurons needs a coating called myelin which works to insulate the connections and assist in healthy brain function. This is where most of the brain’s weight gain comes from.

So get in there and get involved in this, one of the most important, construction projects in your baby’s life, you can help your precious one’s  to a healthy head start.

For more information contact Ngala or DadsWA on 9368 9368 or DadsWA@ngala.com.au

** If there is family history of allergies, consult a health professional before giving fish or nuts.

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