A baby is born with not less than one hundred billion nerve cells or neurons which is about the same number as the number of stars in the Milky Way. These neurons will then form themselves into circuits that are laid down in patterns as instructed from genes. The formed circuits are unstable and immutable, which means they can be changed.
The genes provide the very framework of the brain. But yet, it is one’s experiences in life that will direct its final construction. The human brain has three structures and these are the reptilian base atop the spinal cord which is responsible for the control of autonomic actions. The other one is the limbic system from which feelings arise and the last one is the cortex which involves thinking, intuition, and all other cognitive processes.
Parents may find the first few months of life to be especially obscure. You can never tell what’s happening inside the infant. You have to be cued just so you can see what’s stirring behind the surface of your baby’s infantile self. As a parent, more often than not, you had no idea how much physiological and psychological distance your own baby is covering in just a few short months.
Neuroscientists have a lot to say about how the brain forms itself before the baby is born. It was proven that the human brain is self-contained and isolated; it is evolving independent of its context. It can be likened to a social organ that evolves only through continues interaction with its environment.
After your baby’s birth, his brain explodes with trillions more connections between neurons than he can use. The brain is hedging its bets and is taking no chances on not having a connection that it will turn out to need. The long journey through childhood is one of attrition.
As to which of the circuits to get maintained and strengthened and which atrophy and die, will be determined in the childhood years. The brain has a self-organizing mechanism that can govern such functions as hearing, seeing, speaking, and moving. As the child reaches ten years old, about half of these connections will be gone and he will have about the number of connections he will keep throughout his life.
The first three years of life is crucially important as it is during these years that the brain’s self-creation primarily occurs. How the brain develops is dependent on the kind and the quality of the connections the baby is experiencing. Literally speaking, the brain is created in relationship.
How the brain evolves and what it becomes is dependent upon the quality of its context. A baby who grows up in a deprived environment can only have fewer connections to develop while, on the other hand, babies who grew up in an appropriately stimulating environment can grow brains that are filled with healthy connections and patterns. The baby’s brain can become increasingly effective at doing what his immediate environment demands.
Talking about the brain’s plasticity, it helps to enable it to use the outside world in creating itself. Brain’s plasticity, by the way, is the ability of the brain to change its physical and chemical structure responsively while interacting with the environment. You need to be especially vigilant and responsible in ways that can provide appropriate stimulation in such a time when the cues from your young child are the hardest to read.