Building Baby's Brain: Parenting from Conception through Infancy

•Emotional disturbances in the mother lead to increased production of stress hormones, which damage the baby's future ability to deal with stress. Surround yourself with people who will nurture, protect, and love you, so you can focus on loving your baby.
•Avoid fancy electronic devices or loud music to stimulate your unborn child. He needs peace, just like you.
•Don't attempt to teach the child anything before birth. It is enough if you communicate through touch, voice, and attitude that both of you love her and look forward to welcoming her into your family.

Labor and delivery

•Parents should, if possible, find a birth setting that is womb-like -- a warm, quiet, calm, and comfortable environment where mother and baby can relax and bond.
•Avoid unnecessary medical interventions as much as possible during pregnancy and labor, such as an ultrasound every week just to see the baby.

After birth

•Look for your baby's engagement and disengagement cues and make sure you respond in kind.
•If your baby has been exposed to stress or pain, hold, cuddle, and stroke him frequently. Massage, pediatric chiropractic adjustments, and soothing music will also help.

Adoption

•Adoptive parents must empathize with and tune in to the adopted infant's special state of shock and bewilderment, especially when she first arrives.
•The adoptee must be told, at an appropriate time but definitely before the age of five, that she is adopted.

Managing the day care experience

•At the absolute minimum, three to six months of direct parental care is necessary in the period after birth. This is the mandatory period anyone needs to develop parenting skills, to bond with the baby, and to influence the infant brain as only a parent can.
•Full-day childcare places the youngest children at risk for problems with attachment, signaled by withdrawal on the one hand and indiscriminate sociability on the other. Also, children exposed to too many caretakers are likelier to end up uncertain of their place in the world, and emotionally insecure.

The first few years

•The so-called quality time that working parents set aside for their children can do more harm than good. A couple of hours of intense stimulation can be damaging, but more natural rhythms set a pattern that will enhance the parent-child relationship and correctly wire the brain.
•Rational, reasoned explanations of why certain behaviors are or are not desirable should be delivered in a forceful, feeling way. The parent's message has to carry an emotional charge to have a lasting effect.

Overturning Outdated Concepts of Development

The new findings about prenatal and postnatal development emerge against erroneous concepts that have led us astray for years. For instance, the new brain science has mounted a staggering assault on the notion that learning is more or less constant through the first three years of life.

Instead, brain scans tell us, learning is actually explosive, occurring as different regions of the brain fire up, on schedule, for the acquisition of specific skills, from language to music to math. Teach something to your child when the learning window for that skill is open, and he or she will learn it well. Miss it, and the skill will be hard if not impossible to acquire later.

No longer can we invoke abstract developmental tables suggested by the likes of Freud and Piaget, who attributed scant perception or cognition to the child under three. No longer can we point to Darwin's theory of evolution as proof that humans are mindless automatons driven by their genes to mercilessly propagate the species and survive.

The social nature of brain building means this can't be so. And no longer can we view our children through the lens of economics -- asking how exposure to poverty or crime will affect their lives -- unless we factor in the more important elements of mothering and fathering, too.