At birth, baby brains already have more cells, called neurons, than will ever be needed in life. These neurons function by connection to each other and sending information –electrical impules, actually. Connections sites are called synapses.
The human brain begins forming just three weeks after conception. At peak development, the cerebral cortex creates 2,000,000 (wait let me count the zeros… yep, that’s two million) synapses every second. Yes, every second.
Some of these connections form in utero so that reflexes and breathing can be in place at birth, yet others form when stimulated by:
- Baby’s environment (Mother Nature nominates you, Mommy),
- daily interactions (nomination seconded!), and
- the emotional transactions that lead to secure attachment (you just won yourself an election, little lady).
Every experience — from playing giggle games to realizing that a loved one (a bigger, more capable one) appears in response to a cry, — touches and strenghthens specific circuits while leaving others untouched. Think “guy at the gym who pumps a lot of iron, but obviously never works out his legs.”
Unused connnections prune themselves away. As they should. Streamlined neural porcessing makes the remaining connections more efficient. Think “it certainly is easier to find the things I need in my pantry now that I’ve tossed the food that nobody was eating”.
By two years of age, a toddler’s cerebral cortex contains a density and quality of neurons that far surpasses adult levels — well over a hundred trillion. I don’t even know how many zeros to put. I used to know, but I stopped using the hundred-trillion part of my brain…..
The developing brain (the childhood brain) is far more responsive to stimulation than an adult’s brain. This is termed “plasticity.” The most revolutionary finding in neuroscience is the confirmation that all brains, new and old, have the regenerative power of neuroplasticity. But in this area, especially, babies remain even brainier than the rest of us.
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