Why Are the First Twelve Months of Life so Important?

There are probably 100 valid answers to this question but let’s look at the most important ones.

The brain is growing faster in the first twelve months than at any other time in life.

This is true, if life starts at birth, but it does not.

Brain growth between conception and birth is phenomenal. The brain goes from a single cell to an organ with a circumference of 35 centimeters. While it is true the baby has sensory stimulation and some confined motor opportunity in the first nine months, we all understand that this an incubation time and should be not be disrupted.

Once the baby is born, then the clock is really ticking. Are we going to use this time to enrich the environment and maximize opportunity for the baby? Or let the baby vegetate for the first 12 months?

Between birth and 12 months the head will grow another 12 centimeters. Compare this to the second year when the baby’s head only grows 2.5 centimeters. After age two, for the rest of the child’s life he will only add another 5 centimeters.

Brain growth is so rapid at this time that the baby can literally look different at the end of each day because he is different. It is even more exciting to really understand that we have within our power the ability to speed up that growth by providing stimulation and opportunity.

The Brain Grows By Use

Just like the biceps grows if we use it, so does the brain.

This is what neuroplasticity is all about – the brain does not stay the same. It is changing all the time because it must respond to the environment every minute of the day from day zero until the day, we die the brain is growing. When we combine this vital information with the fact that it grows faster in the first twelve months than at any time later in our lives the responsibilities of the first year can be fully understood. The baby needs the ideal environment so the brain can prosper and flourish.

Use It or Lose It

In the first twelve months new brain cells are generated. As these cells are used, they are embraced and kept but, if they are not used, at the end of the first year they will be sloughed off. In this way Mother Nature is a tough customer. Why provide oxygen, glucose and trace minerals to cells that are not being used? It is yet another reason why stimulation and opportunity are critical in the first year. The baby has the opportunity to increase brain cells but only if those cells are used.

Communication begins at birth, not at 12 years

Mother and Baby using a simple choice board

There is nothing more important to a baby than communication. There is nothing more important to a baby than communication. There is absolutely nothing in this world more important to the baby than communication. More important than sleep, more important than food. This is sometimes referred to as “bonding”, but bonding is actually the beneficial side effect of successful communication. Where there is little or no communication, there will be no bonding. The baby starts communicating in the first few minutes after birth. But it takes two for communication to be successful – the big question for every baby is – “Is there anybody listening?” When mother and father understand this and listen and respond, the baby is “plugged in” to his family.  Parents can start to read what the baby needs and wants, and the quality of the baby’s life changes dramatically. If a baby is confined in day care for many hours a day, there is simply no way to communicate and bond with his family.

Parents Should Enjoy the First 12 Months

The first 12 months should not be terrifying. The first twelve months should not be exhausting. The first twelve months should be enjoyable. If you ask most mothers “Is there one thing you would do differently in the first 12 months?” many will say “I would relax and enjoy it – it goes so quickly”. Yes, it does. The second and third baby often benefit from this realization. New mothers often feel lost and sometimes alone because they do not have the support of their mother or their sister or their friends if they do not live nearby. When mothers know what to do with their new baby and how to do it and, best of all, why to do it, they have a plan. It helps a lot and, of course, the baby needs that plan to grow and develop in the best possible way.

Every year of a human being’s life is important. But there is no year that even comes close to the first year in how it will influence and change all those other years for better or for worse. We can continue to treat the baby like a cute little vegetable looking forward to when he will “wake up” and be a real human being.

Or we can make the first year the top priority it should be. We can arrange our lives to ensure that the baby gets the ideal environment from the moment he wakes up and until he goes to sleep.

We can participate in a miracle every day for a year. If we do, that miracle will last a lifetime.

Janet Doman

Director

The Institutes

 

 

 

 

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