Boosting A Baby’s Brain Power by Supporting Parents and Caregivers

May 1, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

Caring relationships stimulate babies’ brain growth during the most critical years of their development. RWJF and ZERO-TO-THREE are working together to help policymakers hear from families about policies that support them in providing what the latest science tells us all babies and toddlers need.

Did you know that more than one million new neural connections form every second in the first few years of a child’s life? The science is clear. Our brains grow faster from birth to age three than at any other later point in our lives. A baby’s early experiences and relationships stimulate these neural connections, laying the foundation for emotions, language, behavior, memory, physical movement and more.

That’s some serious brain growth, and a serious task for new parents. Anyone who knows or is already a parent will tell you that nobody does it alone. All families need support in order spend quality time with their babies and surround them with caring relationships and early experiences that will help them thrive in childhood—and for a lifetime.

That’s why ZERO TO THREE and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched the Think Babies campaign to help families let policymakers know that the healthy development of infants and toddlers should be a national priority.

And when we Think Babies, we need to think about how we can best support parents and caregivers:

Parents and their babies need dedicated time together after birth or adoption to develop strong relationships that support healthy development.

For example, Billy and Jill had their first child, Ronan, last July and were able to take partially paid leave to spend time with their baby. Billy got 6 weeks off and Jill had 12 weeks. Both feel fortunate to have had time to bond with their son during the critical early days and month of his life. “Everyone should have the chance to spend time with their baby in these important early days.”

Services such as home visits, parenting education efforts through health care providers, and early intervention can make the difference between a strong start and a fragile beginning.

They did for Amie, a trained parent educator who manages a team of home visitors that help support new parents. After nearly 20 years of working in early childhood, she thought motherhood would be a breeze when she and Ryan had their first child, Gus. A couple weeks after they brought Gus home, Amie began feeling desperate and reached out to her home visiting colleagues for help. Recognizing that she was suffering from post-partum depression, they guided her through feeding and nutrition issues, developmental milestones, and sleep transitions. The intervention changed everything for the entire family. As Amie says, “I appreciate even more the great honor and responsibility that I, and all of the home visitors, are given during such a momentous time in a family’s life.”

Families need quality, affordable child care that provides infants and toddlers with one-on-one relationships with caring adults and strong early learning experiences.

Osmary and her husband have three very young children, but no extended family nearby. They depend on child care so they can go to work with the confidence that their children are being taken care of in a safe and nurturing environment. Fortunately, they found affordable care through their state’s Child Care Assistance Program. They know how lucky they are. “We know that lots of families are not getting the help they need to find affordable, high-quality child care.”

Early Head Start works with low-income babies and parents to provide medical, mental health, nutrition, and education services, positively impacting children’s success in school and family self-sufficiency.

Jaimie is a proud mother to her 15-month-old son Julian, who she says is a “wonderful little boy who deserves the best in life.” After she separated from Julian’s father, she struggled as a single mom. She worked part-time because she couldn’t find or afford full-time care for Julian. But because she worked part-time, she couldn’t make ends meet.

Thankfully, the local Early Head Start program helped turn things around for both Jaimie and Julian. She has peace of mind in knowing that Julian is in a safe, nurturing environment with people who care for him and “are expanding his mind and teaching him great things.” And Jaimie now works full-time for the Community Services Agency that runs the Early Head Start program. She’s excited to share her experience with other families who need the support.

These families and so many others like them are the heart and soul of the Think Babies campaign. Tools and support are critically important so our nation’s babies and toddlers have the best possible start.

We can’t think of a more important reason for our nation to come together than to give all our children their best shot at growing up healthy and happy—and America its best shot at a bright and productive future.

Learn how you can get involved in the Think Babies campaign.

 

Kristin Schubert, RWJF managing director, helps to shape the Foundation’s strategy to promote ways to improve the health of children and families, particularly the connection between child health and family well-being and nurturing environments in which children can thrive.

Matthew Melmed, executive director of ZERO TO THREE, is an internationally recognized leader and tireless advocate devoted to promoting the health and development of infants and toddlers.