One of the Best Things To Feed the Tiniest Babies? Lots of Words. August 10 2016, 0 Comments
I remember so clearly the earliest days of parenting: feed, sleep, repeat; feed, sleep, repeat. I didn't even bother with buttoning the shirt that I was wearing. I just let it all hang out because it seemed that my breasts were always doing something. (My son had some feeding issues, so I was pumping as well as trying to breastfeed.)
But about eight weeks post-birth, when feeding issues settled, I began to have these weird moments of ... blankness. I wasn't really sure what I should be doing with my child, other than staring at his adorable face incessantly and covering him in kisses. I read about tummy time, and certainly dangled toys in front of him to urge him to reach. But then, in some of my crazed parental reading and searching for what to do with my bundle of joy, I learned this: from birth, a baby's mind is already receptive to language. And even that early, the number of words we expose them to, and the nature of the conversational rhythm, starts to build the foundation for his or her language development. Oh? Oh, my!
I looked at my son and thought, "Hmm, uh, what should I say?" Besides all the "Mommy loves you!" and "Good boy!" that I had been parroting out quite naturally.
Learning to Use My Words
It was an interesting passage, getting comfortable talking AT my infant son. But it was a very important one.
Turns out, I'm not the only parent who didn't know that language development started so early. A recent national survey by Zero to Three in partnership with the Bezos Family Foundation showed that a full third of parents think that talking doesn't benefit a child's language skills until a year or older. And two-thirds of parents think talking doesn't support language development until three months or older. (Um, I was in that category.)
There's a lot to know about how rapidly our littlest ones' brains learn and grow. After all, a baby's brain will grow to 80 percent of its adult size in the first three years of his or her life. And there will never be a time that the human brain has more neurons than those three years—a baby is born with about a billion neurons because of the rapid growth the brain undergoes, creating almost twice as many synapses (connections) as it will maintain for his or her adult life.
But it's easy to be overwhelmed, right? Who has the time to be a full time parent and a full time student of baby brain development? That's why the minds who made weeSchool (the same folks who created Baby Einstein) are taking all the knowledge that pediatricians and child development experts have gathered and have distilled some of it into easy-to-read and easy-to-use Play Plans that are part of our Bundles of Joy—collections of the toys, videos, ebooks and music that will help you support your child's development. It's fascinating stuff.
But back to language, because nothing could be more important than that. We now know that there is a shockingly huge word gap that opens between children from the wealthiest families and those with the least resources (time, money, support, you name it): by age 3, there is a thirty million word gap between the two groups. THIRTY MILLION. And this matters, because early vocabulary development is strongly related to literacy skills and school success in general, and it's also strongly related to an intellectual processing gap. And that's all locked in place even before preschool.
So I shouldn't have worried about what to say. And neither should you. Just talk. Constantly. All the time. About what you are doing, what you are seeing, what you are feeling. What you think of the weather, when you think you might clean the house, why you clean the house, why you wish you didn't have to clean the house. Leave gaps in the conversation as if your baby could respond, as this starts to teach them about the ebb and flow that's a part of communication.
And so while your wee one is in the high chair and you are serving up those mushy peas, or bananas or whatever, be sure also to serve up an elaborate description of the meal, as if you baby were sitting down for a smorgasbord—because there is an endless banquet of words you can feed that kiddo. They're nourishing in so many different ways.
Stacy Morrison is Executive Producer at weeSchool, as well as a mother, writer, author and former magazine editor in chief (Redbook, Modern Brideand more). She sometimes plays an expert about family, relationships and parenting on TV.