Building Babies Brains

Jane Madell
May 11, 2021

It is good for us all to be reminded periodically about what is involved in building baby’s brains. We know now that babies learn even earlier than we thought possible. Hearing babies are listening to their mothers for at least the last 20 weeks of pregnancy. They recognize their mother’s voices.

Babies cry in the languages they hear. The melody of their voices is different. Chinese babies have more vowels in their cry than American babies etc.

Babies are born with millions of neurons, but in order for the synapses that connect the neurons to be developed, babies need to be stimulated. Every time we talk, sing, tickle babies we build their brains. We need to do it early and intensely or we will not get the chance to do it later. Synapses which are not built will start to prune away.

At birth babies are capable of learning any language. By 7-8 months they are tuned in to the language that they hear around them. Children who hear two languages early learn them. By But every two years after a child is seven, it becomes more difficult to learn a 2nd language so that by puberty is really difficult.  (This may explain why it is difficult for so my children to learn a 2nd language when then get to high school.)

For children to learn language, they need to be exposed to human beings. Babies need human contact to learn. Screen time does not count. In fact, for every hour of TV time children have, they have 5 fewer words. In fact, brain measures at 6-12 months predicts language at 3 years and literacy at 5 years.

Babies are social. They become upset when mom/dad/caregiver turn away and text on the phone. They are a little less upset when they hear the caregiver talking on the phone. Hearing voices is comforting.


Music and Cognition


Children who are exposed to music have an increased ability to develop patterns and can stimulate cognition. So sing songs to babies. Make up songs about what we are doing. I’m washing dishes, dishes, dishes. I am washing dishes etc. Make up words to melodies you know.

I love the Woody Guthrie Songs to Grow On available through the Smithsonian. They are wonderful songs about everyday activities.


For Children with Hearing Loss


Obviously, it is critical that children with hearing loss have good access to stimulation. That means we have to educate families about the need to keep technology on at least 10 hours/day.

Audiologists need to be certain that technology is providing sufficient auditory access to learn to be sure a child will be able to hear at distance to access incidental learning.

Children need auditory therapy to develop listening and spoken language. Families from lower socio economic status can learn how to provide good language stimulation. We  need to coach families so that they know how to provide constant and good language exposure.




Brains come ready to learn. We have to stimulate them to help them learn. Brains are 92% developed by age 5, so we build the brain by then,  Talk talk talk, sing sing sing, talk, sing, read, read, sing, talk etc. There is data that parentese can help build Broca’s area.

We can and must coach parents to build babies brains. Just do it.


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