When you’re trying to figure out what’s happening with your newborn, it can be hard to figure things out.
A recent study from researchers at Cornell University found that baby development in the womb is a lot more complicated than you think.
They tested the brain, the skin, and the intestines of infants and toddlers, and found that babies that were developing normally were also developing in the normal range in just as many cases as babies that weren’t.
And it turns out that normal babies develop at a much slower rate than infants that were born with birth defects.
And that’s because the babies’ brains are actually more immature than those of healthy babies.
“That’s a good thing,” says Amy Czepak, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study.
“When you’re a normal baby, your brain’s not yet fully developed, and so the brain’s a lot less mature.”
So what’s going on?
Czepsak says the brains of healthy newborns are about 40 percent as old as those of babies with birth defect-related disorders, like microcephaly and microcelic abnormalities.
And even though the brain is not yet mature, she says it’s “very much there,” so it’s a natural part of development.
“So we think that there’s something going on in the brain that enables normal brain development,” she says.
And in the early stages of the first month, this “learning” takes place as the brain begins to connect and “tune” the brain into a developmental state.
“It’s a very delicate balance,” she explains.
“We’ve been able to really see how that works in the lab.”
And when it does work, it’s surprisingly subtle, Czecksak says.
“You could say that the brain has just been tuned.”
She adds that a study published in September found that infants who were born to mothers with a history of microcefaly have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood than normal babies.
And a study in March found that while the brain of normal infants doesn’t know about a disorder like microcephalic, babies with a brain disorder like dyslexia develop a much faster rate than normal infants.
The results are intriguing.
“The whole idea that these babies are going to be born and be very different from the normal babies is not just a coincidence,” Czemesk says.
So what can you do about it?
One way to help a newborn with an issue like microcysticercosis is to make sure they’re healthy, she notes.
“What we really want is that they’re being exposed to healthy foods and they’re getting adequate sleep.”
And that includes a well-baby checkup, too.
If the baby has a normal development rate, Czedk says it would be best to wait until they’re about six months old to do a thorough physical exam.
“A normal development in a six-month-old infant can take anywhere from two to six months,” she notes, adding that a normal birth typically takes anywhere from six months to two years.
But even a healthy birth can take up to two to three years.
“If you don’t have that period of time, you’re going to have to put these babies at risk,” she cautions.
Czedksak recommends a wellbaby check-up every six to nine months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends checking for microcefing, a condition that can occur when the baby’s brain is developing abnormally.
If you suspect that the baby may have a condition called microcefermatous microcefi, it may be necessary to conduct a CT scan and an MRI to look at the developing brain.
“I really believe that you can’t let your babies develop until they are at least six months and then you can be sure that they will be healthy,” she adds.