Mother and Baby

Brain Power: What Happens In Your Baby’s Brain In The First Year

Transforming from newborn to toddler within one year is no mean feat especially for your baby’s brain

The brain grows faster in the first year of her life than it ever will again, quadrupling in size. It’s this growth that develops your baby’s vision, movement, communication and emotions.

‘Everything is structurally in place at birth, but her brain undergoes massive changes in the first year,’ says consultant paediatrician Dr Jane Williams.

‘How much her head grows reflects what’s happening inside.’

Better eyesight

For the first few weeks, a baby will have blurry vision when looking into the distance, but will often recognise her mother’s face if it’s close. 

‘A baby’s vision improves over the first three months as the cells at the back of her eyes develop. Until then, she’ll see black or red against white better, says Ashwin Reddy, consultant paediatric ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital.

‘After that, she’ll develop good colour vision. Good distance vision develops by six months. By nine, it should be the same as yours.’

Connecting the networks

An unborn baby has all her brain cells by 20 weeks of age. 

Early positive experiences produce a more richly networked brain

‘During the first year of life, neural connections between cells grow to build the brain up,’ says Dr Simon Newell, consultant paediatrician.

Early positive experiences produce a more richly networked brain, so a consistent, loving environment helps a baby thrive emotionally.

‘Babies who have a tough first year often have problems relating to people because important brain connections weren’t made,’ says Simon.

Baby’s memory

Your baby is unlikely to recall any specific events before age three no matter how fabulous that first birthday party was.

‘However, “neuronal memories” develop during the first year – emotional, physical and mental health pathways that develop through consistency and repetition, teaching her how to behave,’ says Jane.

This is things like you reminding your baby to put her arms up when you dress her so she learns to do it automatically. ‘Associations also make babies respond positively to familiar faces, sounds or places.’

Learning language

Babies understand what you’re saying long before they speak and they communicate through body language until speech starts.

‘Speech is different to language. For a child to speak, the brain has to develop to the point where it can tell the muscles in her mouth to coordinate in a way that produces the word they want to say,’ says Jane. ‘The capacity to learn language is there from birth.’

Physical control

It will seem like your newborn has little control over her body, but that changes as her muscle strength and motor skills develop.

‘In the first two months, reflexes are primitive,’ says Jane. ‘As the brain pathways and insulation around the nerves mature, the control of limbs and muscles develops from the head down.’

She’ll be sitting up in no time.


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