When does brain development begin?
Brain development begins within the first few weeks of conception. It starts with the formation and closure of the neural tube, the earliest tissue that stretches out along the entire back of the embryo. The neural tube forms from the neural plate, which lengthens during the gestation of the pregnancy, and starts folding up to form a groove that begins to shut. This tube eventually transforms into the brain and the spinal cord of the embryo. The early stages of brain development are mainly based on the genes. However, while the genes may be responsible for the basic wiring of a child's brain they do not design the brain completely.
How well-developed is the brain when a baby is born?
When a baby is born, the brain is only about a quarter of the size of a full-grown adult brain and is fairly uneven in form. An infant brain has only developed the lower part of its nervous system whereas the higher regions are still at a nascent stage of development. The lower part of the brain is the one responsible for all the kicking your baby does at birth or right after, and even for the first cry the baby has. When doctors conduct the initial reflex tests on a newborn, it is to assess whether the lower neural centres that control the child's initial reflexes are functioning properly.
When does a brain fully develop?
While nature has ensured that the neural system responsible for basic bodily functions like breathing, circulation, sleeping, sucking and swallowing is functioning even at birth, the rest of the brain's development happens at a more leisurely pace. A newborn's brain is considerably slower than that of an adult, taking up to sixteen times more time to process information. This gradually changes over time and the brain reaches its full potential by 15 years of age.
When does a brain begin to work?
The brain begins to function in the fifth week of conception, when the first synapses begin to form in the foetal spinal cord. By the sixth week, these developments can enable some form of foetal movement. However, you will begin to experience the flutter in your belly and the subsequent kicking and arm movements only by the second trimester. And all this movement is thanks to the rapidly developing brain that is responsible for the foetal reflex movement. This period also marks an important development of some other abilities such as breathing, maintaining heart rate and blood circulation. In the last trimester, your baby's brain has begun the development of the cerebral cortex, making simple learning possible. The baby can recognise voices outside the womb and also begin to recognise familiar smells. Doctors recommend holding babies close to the mother's heart because the mother's heartbeat is a familiar sound and a source of great comfort for the baby.
What are some of the important factors that determine brain development before birth?
One of the most basic requirements for healthy brain development in a foetus is good nutrition. While this does not mean major life alterations during pregnancy, it is important to avoid a few basic things such as alcohol, cigarettes, exposure to chemicals and radiation and many medical drugs, a list of which is usually provided by the consulting gynaecologist. Infections too can pose a risk for foetal brain development. However, prenatal testing and treatment, including some prescribed vaccines during this period can help minimise any kind of risks.