The Truth About New Babies
I have always enjoyed speaking about the early development of babies. The first three months are critical, but, surprisingly enough, those three months are really more like the nine months of gestation than the subsequent months and years of child development.
I have always enjoyed speaking about the early development of babies. The first three months are critical, but, surprisingly enough, those three months are really more like the nine months of gestation than the subsequent months and years of child development. That's right; your baby really needs 12 months of gestation, but the last three months are outside of your womb! I'm going to tell you why that's true and what is really going on.
The most important characteristic of humans, I think, is our intelligence. In simple terms, a larger brain is required for all the complex things that humans do. The problem, however, is that if a baby's head is too big, the baby may not be able to arrive safely. In the tens of thousands of years before modern medicine, there was this obvious balance between the brain growth in our prehistoric ancestors and the need for the infant to fit through the birth canal. Even today there are deliveries that require assistance – even surgery – to allow the new baby to come out without damage.
Here's where the story gets really fascinating, but you have to understand some biology first. The brain functions by making complex connections between brain cells called axons. The axons are like long wires that connect electronic machinery. Each axon can send a form of electrical current from one cell to the next. And just like with electrical wiring in our houses and machines, the current can leak out if the wire is not protected. That's one of the reasons that copper wires are coated. Now imagine you have a thousand copper wires. If you could somehow connect them correctly in a box, they might take up a lot of space. But if you had the same thousand wires that were coated to provide better connectivity, those same wires would take up a lot more space. And that's exactly what nature has done. The new baby will eventually need all its axons to be covered with a substance called myelin to allow better impulse propagation (faster connections). But the myelination process doesn't really get going until after birth. Otherwise, the baby's head would be too big. Instead, this process occurs during the first three months of life.
I'm going to explain why it is important for you to know this information in a moment. But first I want to assure you that what you do during these first three months – what all mothers have done going back to the first mothers – is still important. Holding your baby, singing to your baby, kissing your baby, using that high-pitched voice you didn't know you had. All the ways in which you stimulate your baby's senses are so important, and you are helping your baby's brain to develop as you do all those things. But the baby's brain abilities are quite limited during those first three months, while the myelination process is going on and the head is rapidly growing. Babies recognize contrast (light next to dark), so, often, instead of looking at your face – unless you're nursing and your face comes into sharp focus – the baby seems to be looking over your shoulder. At first, babies are either sleeping or eating, and they don't recognize you as an individual. They don't have a true sense of self-awareness. Maternal instinct keeps you working for your baby with no real reward.
And then a miracle happens. Somewhere around three months after birth, your baby sees your face and smiles. The baby really recognizes you. Congratulations on reaching this important milestone!
Robert B. Golenbock, MD, is currently retired. He has cared for children in the Danbury area for 43 years, including at the Center for Pediatric Medicine. The CPM is located at 107 Newtown Rd #1D, Danbury, CT 06810. For more information, please call (203) 790-0822 or visit https://centerforpediatricmedct.com.