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How Your Babys Brain Develops

2-Minute Neuroscience: Early Neural development

4-minute read

The experiences and relationships your baby has in their early years help shape the adult they will become. Creating a supportive, loving environment filled with warm, gentle interactions helps your babys brain to develop, and will lay the foundation for your babys future development and learning.

Focus On Breadth Not Depth

One way to avoid focusing on results during this phase of development is to emphasize the breadth of skill development over depth. Exposing children to a wide variety of activities lays a foundation for developing skills in a range of fields. This is the time to engage children in music, reading, sports, math, art, science, and languages.

In his book Range, David Epstein argues that breadth of experience is often overlooked and underappreciated. Focusing on excellence in a single activity may be appropriate at some point in life. But the people who thrive in our rapidly changing world are those who first learn how to draw from multiple fields and think creatively and abstractly. In other words, our society needs well-rounded individuals.

Well-roundedness is especially important for children from ages 2 to 7. Their developing brains are ready to soak in a wide range of skill sets. This sampling period, as Epstein calls it, is integral. This is the window during which to develop childrens range. There is plenty of time for them to specialize later.

Give Up Alcohol And Smoking

Never smoke or drink while you are pregnant. For instance, alcohol use can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. It also can interfere with the development of cognitive brain cells. In fact, drinking during pregnancy often leads to lower IQs, poor cognitive skills, attention deficits, impulsive behavior, and even poor coordination. Meanwhile, nicotine reduces the blood flow and nutrition to your baby because it constricts your blood vessels. It also impacts cognitive brain cells.

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Migration To The Cerebral Cortex

The mammalian brain develops from the core outward. Long before the recognizably wrinkled surface of the cerebral cortex appears, the hollow, fluid-filled ventricles are present. These serve both as a connection back to the spinal cord and as the site of origin for the new elements that will ultimately be assembled into the outermost surface of the brain, the cerebral cortex. Thus, in the course of development, the neurons and supporting glial cells of the cortex must somehow make their way there from the ventricular zone. This stage has been described as a massive migration of cells, and the distances involved are enormous, at least from the point of view of a single cell: some may travel as much as several millimeters to their eventual destination in the cortex.

One other striking aspect of neuronal migration is the order in which the six layers of the cortex are built up: from the innermost to the outermost. Each migrating neuron, before arriving at its own predetermined site in the cortex, must travel outward through all the neurons that have migrated and settled in the cortex before it. As a result, each layer of the cortex, as it builds up, has the opportunity to carry an accretion of information from nearby cells that have preceded itinformation that may help to lay the groundwork for the next developmental stage.

Brain Stage: In The Womb


Whats going on: Among the many processes that happen in utero, the two major ones are brain cell creation and neuronal migration. Once brain cells are created, one of their main jobs is to form a brain that functions as well as possible, Norton says. They do this by neuronal migration, which means moving to the parts of the brain where they are designed to fit. That could be deep in the hippocampus, where we store memories, or in the part of motor cortex, which helps us move our left arm.

Because neuronal migration occurs in the womb, its largely steered by genetics. There is an idea that many disorders with genetic basis may be acting on neuronal migration in utero, Norton says. For example, the genes associated with dyslexia may affect how those neurons migrate, meaning how the brain is shaped before birth makes someone either better or worse suited to be a good reader.

Milestones: Babies begin developing their motor and sensory systems in utero. As for the senses, touch typically comes online first, as early as eight weeks gestation. By around 11 weeks, they begin using their hands and feet to feel out their environment and their own bodies. They also respond to their mothers movements, sometimes by kicking back.

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Bulletin #4356 Children And Brain Development: What We Know About How Children Learn

Prepared by Judith Graham, Extension human development specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Revised by Leslie A. Forstadt, Ph.D. Child and Family Development Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit more of our publications and books at

Like constructing a house, brains are built upon a strong foundation. This starts before birth, and is very important during the first three years of life. Brain cells are raw materials much like lumber is a raw material in building a house, and a childs experiences and interactions help build the structure, put in the wiring, and paint the walls. Heredity determines the basic number of neurons children are born with, and their initial arrangement.

At birth, a babys brain contains 100 billion neurons, roughly as many nerve cells as there are stars in the Milky Way, and almost all the neurons the brain will ever have. The brain starts forming prenatally, about three weeks after conception. Before birth, the brain produces trillions more neurons and synapses than it needs. During the first years of life, the brain undergoes a series of extraordinary changes.

An Overview Of Brain Anatomy

The easiest way to get to know the brain is to learn the main structures of the adult brain and how they relate to its function . It should be kept in mind that the relationship between brain structure and function is never simple. Although we often hear claims about the language area or emotion center of the brain, statements like these are simplifications in reality, even the simplest mental activities involve multiple brain regions.

The brain can be divided into three major parts. The brain stem, shaped like a widening stalk, connects the spinal cord to the upper brain. It controls reflexes and involuntary processes like breathing and heart rate. Behind the brain stem and below the upper brain is the cerebellum, which is involved in balance and coordination.

The cerebrum, the largest part of the brain, sits above the brain stem and cerebellum. While each of the brains structures plays an essential role, the cerebrum is the area most involved in higher processes like memory and learning. The cerebrums outer surface is called the cerebral cortex. Although less than one-fourth of an inch thick , it is where the brains most advanced activities such as planning and decision-making take place.

Source: Adapted by Bill Day from, 2006.

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Continued Change In Adulthood

After a period of substantial adjustment during adolescence and early adulthood, the brain reaches a period of relative stability. But changes in the brains wiring and structure will continue to some degree throughout a persons life. Even after it has reached its mature state, the brain is plastic, reforming parts of itself in response to an individuals experience of the world.

Factors Impacting Fetal Brain Development

How Does a Child’s Brain Develop? | Susan Y. Bookheimer PhD | UCLAMDChat

There are many factors that can impact fetal brain development, but most healthy women do not need to radically alter their lives in order to promote healthy fetal brain development. In fact, the most important factor in optimal brain growth is to live a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating a healthy diet and exercising. It is also important for pregnant women to eliminate alcohol and cigarettes because these substances can impair the formation and wiring of brain cells.

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In The First Three Years A Childs Brain Has Up To Twice As Many Synapses As It Will Have In Adulthood

Now that were a little more familiar with the fundamentals of the brain, lets take a look at brain development in children. Between conception and age three, a childs brain undergoes an impressive amount of change. At birth, it already has about all of the neurons it will ever have. It doubles in size in the first year, and by age three it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume.8-10

Even more importantly, synapses are formed at a faster rate during these years than at any other time. In fact, the brain creates many more of them than it needs: at age two or three, the brain has up to twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood . These surplus connections are gradually eliminated throughout childhood and adolescence, a process sometimes referred to as blooming and pruning.11

Where To Get Help And Support

If your baby isnt meeting the milestones listed in their child health record, or if you think that something might be wrong with your babys vision, hearing, communicating, behaviour, moving or growth, see your doctor or child and family health nurse. You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to talk to a maternal child health nurse.

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What Makes The Neural Tube

As cells divide, they separate into three germ layers known as the endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm.

At approximately the third week of gestation, or development, the neural tube begins to form within the ectoderm layer. The neural tube is the first step of brain development. Special stem cells, known as neural progenitor cells, are created within the neural tube. Neural progenitor cells continuously divide, forming two new progenitor cells with each division.

About six weeks into gestation, neural progenitors begin to divide in a new way: each division creates one progenitor cell, and one neuron. The back of the neural tube will create the neurons of the spinal cord, while the front part of the neural tube produces neurons that will eventually be part of the brain. Unlike neural progenitor cells, neurons can no longer divide.

What Develops In The First Trimester

Fetal development: Your baby

The first trimester is a time of rapid development and separation of the various parts of the brain, according to Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, double board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine, and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.

Within 4 weeks, the rudimentary structure known as the neural plate develops, which Gaither says is considered the precursor to the nervous system. This plate elongates and folds on itself forming the neural tube the cephalad portion of the tube becomes the brain, while the caudal portion elongates to eventually become the spinal cord, she explains.

The neural tube continues to grow, but around week 6 or 7, Gaither says it closes, and the cephalad portion separates into three distinct parts: front brain, midbrain, and hindbrain.

Its also during this time that neurons and synapses begin to develop in the spinal cord. These early connections allow the fetus to make its first movements.

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The Formation Of Synapses And Regions

After migration, the tendency of recently arrived neurons to cluster with similar cells into distinct regions determines the form and ultimately the function of each part of the brain. At the upper and outer surface, the cortical sheet becomes continuous at this stage and begins to compress into its characteristic folds and creases, as more cells from the proliferative units continue to add surface area to an already crowded space. The various types of cells also finish differentiating, so that each type has the biochemical properties, receptor sites, and other features appropriate to its region and layer. The cell body of the neuron grows longer and extends its axon and it also puts forth numerous branching dendrites .

The process of aggregation is highly ordered. Cells of the same type recognize one another and draw together in many populations of neurons, cells may even arrange themselves with the same orientation. Additionally, in at least some contexts, axons tend to grow in bundles, or “fasciculations,” closely associated with one another they dissociate somewhat as they approach their target neurons, which suggests that there may be some form of recognition molecules, and possibly adhesion molecules as well, along the surface of axons.

Stages Of Prenatal Brain Development

From the time the neural tube closes, around week 7, the brain will grow at a rate of 250,000 neurons per minute for the next 21 weeks. Ultrasounds can reveal the embryo moving as early as 6 weeks after conception , detecting the electrical impulses that govern movement and indicating that the brain is beginning to function.

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Does Everyones Brain Change In The Same Way During Development

No. While scientists have observed general trends, there is considerable variation between individuals in terms of when and to what extent aspects of the brain change. Individual differences in brain development can be related to psychological differences. For example, researchers have related measures of intelligence to patterns of cortical thickening and thinning in certain brain areas during childhood and adolescence.

When Does The Brain Stop Developing

How the human brain develops | Part-1

Your babys brain will continue to mature throughout childhood with researchers estimating that the brain only stops developing around age 25!

During the first three to five years of your little ones life, the brain develops rapidly. By the age of 9, all of the major structures are in place.

That certainly doesnt mean brain development is done. The prefrontal lobe is the last area of the brain to develop, starting during the teen years. The prefrontal cortex plays an important role in what you might call adulting functions: goal-oriented decision making, memory encoding and retrieval, language and even intelligence. Until its fully developed, the amygdala tends to drive decision-making.

From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

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Best Books About Baby And Toddler Brain Development

This article is just scratching the surface of whats out there. While weve provided many great sources as links on this page, the following books will provide more thorough explanations and information regarding brain development in young children. If youre interested in learning more, here are a few books we recommend.

How The Brain Is Affected By Early Experience

Two issues have played pivotal roles in guiding scientific inquiry about early experience and the brain. The first concerns the nature of early experiences. Those who raise and work with young children are deeply concerned about whether they are providing them with the right experiences and protecting them from harmful ones. What harm is done by exposure to inappropriate experiences, and how reversible are the effects? What degree of enhancement can be achieved by exposure to enriched experiences, and how long do beneficial effects last? Much more is known about the negative consequences for brain development of harmful environments than about the benefits of advantageous environments. And relatively more is known about the effects of pre- and perinatal environments on the developing nervous system than about environmental influences after the first few months of life.

Within these limitations, it is well known that a variety of environmental factors play a significant role in modulating early brain development. Some of the greatest insights have come from research on the detrimental consequences of early biological insults, deprivations, and stress. We have also learned a great deal from research on the neurobiological consequences of prematurity. We turn to this research following a brief overview of the studies that generated excitement about the brain’s receptivity to environmental influence.

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Child Development : Early Brain Development

The human brain, that magnificent organ that gives us the potential to run marathons, compose symphonies and launch satellites, begins forming about three weeks after conception. Although much of what occurs during early brain development is genetically determined, some evidence suggests that childrens earliest experiences can affect how their brain develops.

According to Christine Dobson, director of programs and research at ChildTrauma Academy, a Houston-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of maltreated children, Its in the context of a safe, protective environment that healthy development occurs.

Although the brainstem is the first part of the brain to develop, the higher parts are evolving simultaneously but at different rates. The cerebral cortex the part of the brain that controls thought, feeling, language and the senses is the last to mature and begins functioning shortly before a baby is born.

To illustrate, take Elisa, a healthy little girl. As a newborn, Elisas brain is 25 percent the size of an adult brain. During what scientists call the exuberant period, the brain cells in Elisas cerebral cortex are forming the connections necessary for early milestones such as color vision, emotional attachments and voluntary actions like grasping. By age 2, her brain has produced more than a hundred trillion of these connections, also known as synapses.

Additional Resources

The Brain Develops Faster Through The First 1000 Days Of Life Than At Any Other Time Here’s What You Need To Know

Pin by Lauren Maston on *Children: Activities, Play ...

    Neuroscientists say about 90 percent of brain development occurs by age five. The process starts in utero, and while it does continue into adulthood, the brain develops at a much faster rate through the first 1,000 days of life than at any other time. Those early years are when the brain is the most plastic, meaning it has the greatest capacity to observe, adapt, and learn new skills and abilities, from recognizing parents faces to chucking Cheerios to talking and walking.

    But not all kids brains progress at the same pace or in the same way. Brain development is driven by a mix of genetics, nutrition starting in utero, and a childs early environments and interactions with people. Exposure to toxins, infections, or chronic stress either in the womb or post-birth can influence brain development too, and typically not in a good way.

    How the brain develops in those early years lays the foundation for future learning, behavior, and relationships with other people. This is a big reason why its important for pregnant people to eat healthy foods, get plenty of rest, and try to mitigate stress and then, once the child is born, for parents to provide a nurturing, secure environment and offer an age-appropriate, nutrient-rich diet.

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