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From Fetus to 1 Year Old: the Magic of Baby Brain Development

Your baby’s brain is developing at a fast pace during the first year of their life. They will accumulate nearly their entire brain mass and neural connections by the age of 5. Nearly 40% of that happens before the age of 1. This is a time for nurture and education.

baby brain development fetus to 1 year old

Fetal Brain Development

The fetal brain begins to develop almost as soon as cells begin to differentiate. The fetal brain develops most during the first three months of growth, much like the rest of the body. It will produce 38,000,000,000 (38 Billion) neural cells by the time birth occurs.

neural cell at fetal development

But, truly, the biggest burst of activity comes just after birth, when sensory stimulation goes from minimal to maximum. While we will talk about it later, the baby lacks the ability to filter out the sensory input. In the womb, the mother’s body does that for the fetus.

The fetal brain reacts mainly to the stimulus provided by the mother. The fetus can hear, see, and feel things from the outside, but it is highly muted. In the timeline of baby brain development, the potential is there in the fetus, but it takes birth to really let the development happen.

Fetal brain activity begins with the first connection of nerves. However, formal thinking isn’t believed to occur until the 8th month of gestation. The motion, reactions, and cravings women feel from their baby are all signs the fetal brain is working, even if they are just reflex.

But, scientists aren’t exactly sure when the brain starts to form independent thoughts. We can’t exactly ask a fetus. It’s hard to determine what motions are simply a reflex and what motions are a conscious thought. Although the brain is considered fully developed at 6 months, there is quite a bit of growth happening over the next 5 years.

Since the brain is developing the entire time, we recommend that you use the development exercises and tips below the entire pregnancy. This way, you’ll be sure to encourage your baby to be bright and happy.

Baby Brain Development – The First Year

Baby Brain Development Stages

During the first few weeks of life, a baby is exposed to so many new stimuli, they can’t keep up. Previously, their whole world was muffled, warm, wet, and cramped. Now, they are exposed to light, cold, hot, dry, wet, and huge amounts of open space. There is colors, shapes, and depth. There are smells, sounds, and tastes. A number of textures alone is boggling.

The overload of input causes the baby’s brain to go to sleep. It is a defense mechanism to help the brain process all the new data it has received. Staring at one object, like the mother, is also a defense mechanism. A mother is seen as safe, therefore, the baby doesn’t need to sleep.

Once the baby has a chance to get used to many of the new stimulus, they will begin to explore. Scientists aren’t sure if babies are naturally curious or if they desire to continue the massive input of data into the brain. Observations of abused children found the natural curiosity is still present, if when it is tempered by caution, lending to the theory that it is instinct to seek out new sources of data.

how to stimulate baby brain development

As they grow, your baby will begin to explore more of their world. They have no sense of right or wrong ways to explore, so they will use all their senses to do so. That’s why babies often place things in their mouth – they want to use the sense of taste to learn about an object.

It also explains why smaller objects get shoved in ears and up the nose. Babies are attempting to use those senses, but aren’t quite sure how they work yet.

The best way to describe the baby’s development at this stage is exploration. Help them explore their environments and take them to new, baby-friendly places.

Ways to Improve Brain Development

There are many ways to stimulate infant brain growth. We definitely recommend you start as soon as possible with your baby since the quickest growth in the baby’s brain happens from birth to the first few months. Then, over time, it slows.

When we say slows, the growth and expansion of a baby’s brain are still many times greater than an adult brain. A 6-week old baby can form around 10 times as many neural connections as an adult. Basically, they learn and retain 10 times as much information and education as an adult, without trying.

Since exploration is key during development, we need to provide as much stimulation as possible. There are some rather easy ways to do this.


Everybody know Mozart makes babies smarter. Classical music is one of the best things to listen to when pregnant and in the first few years of a baby’s life. There is enough music in the classical genre to last the 6 years of massive growth of the baby’s brain.

Classical music isn’t all that works. Jazz and other instrumental music are also shown in various studies to work as well.

Rock, pop, country and ethnic music seems to be neutral for brain growth. Rap, R&B, metal, and other hard rocks are actually detrimental.

It is the complexity of the music that makes the difference. In the detrimental music, there are no musically or variations. There is nothing to stimulate the brain. The neutral music is also rather bland and repetitive, although they can surprise us.

music during pregnancy tips

Classical and jazz are exceptionally varied and provide a tremendous amount of stimulation. The variations in the tempos, rhythms, and sounds provides constant stimulation.

Music is based in mathematics, the most complex music has more complex mathematical formulas. Listening to classical and jazz increases test scores in young children. This is a very good reason to listen to this type of music rather than lesser types.

What a child is exposed too early on also influences what they will like later on. A comparison of SAT scores and choices of music finds the average person listens to general rock music or country. Children with higher SAT scores tend to listen to classical and jazz music. While children with low SAT scores prefer rap, R&B, and metal.


Taking a baby to a museum isn’t high on the list of many parents, but it should be. Babies are creative. Give them a crayon and they will produce… well, we don’t have a clue, but it’s important to them.

The Smithsonian encourages babies to be brought in in order to further the bonding with parents. Pamphlets teach parents to point out common themes in artwork and objects they recognize.

benefits of museum for babies

Art also teaches children to associate patterns and space. It also strengthens the attention span and their ability to concentrate on a particular focus. It also gives an outlet for some emotions and thoughts they are unable to express verbally.

Being at a museum exposes babies to more media and ways to express than they would get at home. A day at a museum will make your baby’s brain sharp far quicker than a week with the TV.


Babies cannot understand most of what you say. However, they understand tone and motion. When they see you read, they associate good feelings with the act of reading. As your baby becomes a toddler and child, this habit is seen as positive.

Children also pick up new words very easily. Reading is a good way to expand your own vocabulary. As your vocabulary is expanded, so will theirs. Simply talking to your baby can influence brain development in a positive way.

benefits of reading to babies infographic

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Eat Well

If you want your baby to develop well, you want to know what to eat for proper fetal brain development. Here’s the biggest thing that affects fetal brain development: Junk in = Junk out.

The fetal brain requires lots of healthy fats to grow properly. The human brain is mostly water. If we took all that away, about 70% of what is left are fats! The rest is healthy proteins and higher amounts of trace elements than the rest of the body.

Food cravings are typical during pregnancy as the body requires various nutrients. The taste buds and brain recognize a nutrient is present in food that is eaten often. If you eat junk food and processed foods often, you will crave junk foods. If you eat healthy foods, you will crave healthy foods.

In order to eat a balanced diet and avoid most of the food cravings, stick to eating a diet that is at least half fruits and vegetables, then add in naturally raised, local meats, and 100% whole grains. Avoid all processed foods. Drink plenty of water.

pregnancy nutrition tips infographic

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As the fetal brain develops, eating healthy is the best way to make sure your baby is smart and healthy. As your baby nurses, eating healthy is also important. You are still their sole source of nutrients, so eat well and they will eat well.


After birth, the number of neurons in the brain start to decrease. Even while new connections are forming rapidly, many of unused ones are fading away.

By the time your baby enters school, about half of the neurons have been destroyed. This is actually a normal process, so don’t worry about it.

Why does the fetal brain overproduce neurons? Its preparation for learning and exposure to what may happen. You can help your baby keep as many of them as possible by exposing them to different things and experiences.

how to foster a child's curiosity infographic

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Left-Brain/Right-Brain Development

It is not necessary to develop your baby’s left brain or to train your baby’s right brain. A unique feature of early learning is a co-development of each side of the brain equally. Babies will naturally start to favor one side or the other as they grow and discover an affinity for certain ways of thinking.

Exposure to art, music, and exploration will encourage right-brain development. Reading, identification, and the first stages of critical thinking will develop the left-brain.

Until a child is old enough to start to favor one side, we don’t recommend forcing either side into dominance.

left and right brain functions infographic

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Problems that Can Occur

No Brain Growth

There are rare conditions that can cause the neural connection to not form in an embryo. A baby cannot grow without a brain. Fortunately, the body recognizes this and self-aborts the pregnancy. Usually, the fault lies in genetics, something just did not replicate correctly. Parents should not be discouraged since this is a rare condition.

Fetal Brain Damage

There are many ways to harm a fetus, but with minimal care, they are nearly all eliminated. When in the womb, a baby can get brain damage through physical or chemical means.

In a severe accident, physical trauma can injure a baby just like anyone else. However, the body takes great care to avoid that. Outside of a severe accident, this doesn’t happen. Even in cases of slips and falls, it is rare to injury the fetus.

Greater care must be taken to avoid chemicals. These include medications, alcohol, drugs, and accidental ingestion. Many medications are known to cause brain damage in the fetus, so most doctors will tell a woman to stop taking those medications prior to becoming pregnant.

Avoiding alcohol will stop fetal alcohol syndrome from occurring. Avoid drugs will stop the fetus from being addicted to drugs.

Accidental ingestion simply requires being aware of what is happening around you.

Genetically, the fetal brain will not develop properly if there is an expression of mental retardation. Down syndrome and autism are two of the most common brain development problems (although many sources are now showing autism to be caused by chemicals and vaccines).

Finally, the most common cause of fetal brain damage is trauma sustained during birth. Having the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck or a mistake by the doctor can cause physical damage to the head and brain. At this point in life, the skull is not articulated (the bones are not connected) and it is easy to crush the head. Even slight pressure can cause problems. When the cord is around the neck, blood flow can be cut off and it only takes 1-2 minutes for oxygen deprivation to cause brain damage.

Fortunately, a baby has a better chance of recovering from fetal brain damage than any other age. It all depends on the nature of the damage and severity.

Fetal Brain Cysts

The presence of isolated choroid plexus cysts (CPCs) on a second-trimester ultrasound is rarely a problem.

choroid plexus

In a tiny portion of fetuses with CPCs, a rare condition called trisomy 18 occurs. It is caused by the fetus having an extra set of chromosome 18. In nearly all cases, the fetus is stillborn. Those that survive are severely mentally retarded. A level II ultrasound will be able to detect other signs of trisomy 18 and be able to tell if the infant has brain damage.

Fetal Brain Hemorrhage

Hemorrhaging within the brain is a worrisome problem. It can lead to many complications, like cerebral palsy.

There are 4 stages of intraventricular hemorrhage. The first two are the most common and rarely have long-term consequences. The second two are more severe and often create much damage.

intraventricular hemorrhage infographic

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The best way to avoid these problems is to eat a healthy diet, moderate exercise throughout the pregnancy, and to monitor development. Newborn ultrasounds of your baby’s brain are available to help reduce the chances of this occurring spontaneously.

Shaken Baby Syndrome

Babies do not have the muscle tone to be able to hold their heads upright for the first few months of life. The simple act of picking up a baby can cause neck and head trauma if not done carefully.

Fortunately, most people take great care of their babies and this is not a worry.

Unfortunately, some people just don’t care.

Shaken baby syndrome is a serious brain injury resulting from forcefully shaking or moving an infant or toddler. It destroys a baby’s brain cells and prevents the brain from getting enough oxygen. Often, it comes when frustrated parents shake their baby to get them to stop a behavior.

shaken baby syndrome facts infographic

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The simple act of slowing down and being careful is enough to completely prevent this from happening.

Crying Causing Brain Damage

In most cases, crying does no brain damage to your baby.

However, the philosophy of allowing a baby to ‘cry it out’ has been shown to cause damage. The longer baby cries, the more anxiety, and panic they experience. This increases cortisol and adrenaline in their bodies. As young as they are, they are unable to handle long periods of these hormones.

Cortisol will suppress neuron formation in the brain. It can lead to high blood pressure, which can lead to hemorrhage. Long term effects can include depression, ADHD, and violence.

dangers of baby crying it out

While it is not necessary to stop your baby from crying, it is recommended that you don’t allow your baby to cry alone for long periods of time.

Brain Sparing Effect

The brain sparing effect is a redistribution of blood flow around the body of a fetus in response to lower blood flow to the placenta, with the preference of the blood supply being routed to the brain. There are several other factors that go into the placental insufficiency (also known as intrauterine growth retardation or Utero-placental insufficiency).

Factors that lead to placental insufficiency are a thin placenta, calcifications, and infarctions (interrupted blood supply) of the blood vessels. Although the presence of any of signs is not conclusive, since many of them occur in normal pregnancies.

In severe cases, the fetus is stillborn. In milder cases, bed rest is prescribed and medication can help reduce the insufficiency.

The sparing effect is simply the way the fetal body adjusts to the reduced blood flow. It is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.


The brain development of your baby from fetus to 1 year old is best characterized as massive exploration. The brain is forming and becoming a living, thinking organ.

We, as parents, are highly influential in this development. With care, a good diet, and proper medical observation, your baby can be healthy and happy.

Stick to eating a vegetable-rich diet. Expose your child to as many different things as possible. Use music, art, and reading to start stimulating their brains to think. Encourage play and any activities that make them think and explore.

Remember, their brains at this point are like a sponge. What you put in early is what you will get out later. Put good educational things in now.

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