Vimala's Parenting Blog

INFANTS’ BRAINS ARE ATTUNED TO BABY TALK AND NURSERY RHYMES

March 9, 2017

mother-singing-to-babyResearchers in Cambridge say that babies learn best when their brain waves are in sync with their parents.’ The study also shows that infants are attuned to baby talk and nursery rhymes; it indicates that babies need to feel safe, secure and loved for brain connections to be properly formed to enable them to learn effectively. These findings are emerging from a baby brain scanning project at Cambridge University.

To a newborn, the world is a rush of sights and sounds, an overload of information. But then the world gradually comes into focus. Babies soon learn to recognize faces and voices and over the coming months learn how to move, understand language and make sense of what is around them. This is a crucial moment in every life when important connections are being formed in the brain.

To learn just how this happens, researchers at a baby lab in Cambridge, England are scanning the brains of babies and their mothers while the two are interacting in learning activities. The early indications are that when the brain waves of mothers and babies are out of sync, the babies learn less well. But when the two sets of brainwaves are in tune they seem to learn more effectively.

Dr. Victoria Leong, who is leading the research, has discovered that babies learn well when their mums speak to them in a soothing sing-song voice which she calls “motherese.” Dr Leong’s research shows that nursery rhymes are a particularly good way for the moms in her study to get in sync with their babies.

“Although it sounds odd to us, babies really love listening to motherese even more than adult speech. It holds their attention better and the speech sounds clearer to them. So we know the more motherese the baby hears, the better the language development,” she said.

Dr Leong says the same is undoubtedly true if infants hear baby talk and nursery rhymes from fathers, grandparents and any other carers, but her experiments to date have focused on the interaction between mothers and their babies. “The baby brain is set to respond to motherese, which is why it is such an effective vehicle for teaching babies about new information,” she says.

Dr. Leong’s team has also found that babies respond better when there is prolonged eye contact. Mums who sang nursery rhymes looking directly at their babies held their attention significantly better than those who gazed away, even occasionally.

So should busy, multitasking parents worry if they occasionally glance at their phones while caring for their babies? “No, not at all,” says Dr. Leong, “By-and-large, most parents do a wonderful job with parenting. Brain development is only affected in extreme cases of neglect or lack of attention.”

Dr. Leong’s findings, that babies respond well to good face-to-face interactions and conversations is well established in behavioral studies. But what is new is that her team is trying to learn what happens inside the brain when babies are receiving quality attention. “My work is to understand the neurological underpinnings of these effects,” she said, “How is it that the baby’s brain treats the social interactions with its mother and how is it that it is helping learning?”

Babies learn by making physical connections in their brains when they learn something new. Human brains take years to develop because we have so much to learn. Babies explore different ways of making sense of the world mostly through play until they suddenly make a breakthrough and it is then that a connection is formed and strengthened in their brain.

But, according to Dr. Kirstie Whitaker, who is a brain researcher at Cambridge University’s psychiatry department, sometimes this can happen too quickly.

“If babies experience stress early in life, their brains develop a little too quickly and so rather than work out the very best connections they should make, they go with ones that are good enough, so one of the reasons I would urge a supportive and nurturing environment is to allow children to explore and stay in that particularly curious and flexible brain development for as long as possible.”

The research suggests that love helps form the physical connections necessary for brain development. “The behaviors that love produce are good for learning,” says Dr. Leong. “Drawing each other into conversation, giving each other attention and being in the moment together are all good for learning.”

KANGAROO CARE HELPS PREEMIES AND FULL TERM BABIES, TOO

February 2, 2017

When Ali Andrew Li was born on Jan. 7, he was gently placed on his mother’s chest, where doctors cleaned and examined him and covered him with a warm blanket.

“I just loved it,” his mother, Salma Shabaik, a family physician who lives in Los Angeles, says. “It was really nice to have the baby right there beneath my eyes where I could feel him, touch him, kiss him.”

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That was different than the birth of her son Elias two years ago; he was whisked away to a bassinet to be examined. And unlike Elias, who cried a lot after delivery, Shabaik says Ali stopped crying “within seconds” after being placed on her chest.

Kangaroo mother care has been widely used worldwide to care for premature babies, and it’s gaining popularity in caring for healthy full term babies like Ali as well. It is as it sounds: Like a kangaroo’s pouch, mothers hold their naked newborns on their bare chest for the first few hours of life.

At Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center where Ali was born, the technique is routinely practiced for healthy mothers and newborns. The baby gets to know their mother immediately, says Dr. Larry Gray, behavioral and developmental pediatrician at Comer Children’s Hospital, University of Chicago Medicine. “The baby gets landed in a trusting environment,” he says, reassuring them that life outside the womb can also be “soft, comfortable and warm.”

The benefits are many, according to Dr. Lydia Kyung-Min Lee, an ob-gyn at UCLA. Not only is the baby happier, she says, but his or her vitals are more stable. Body temperature, heart and breathing rate normalize more quickly. The close contact also allows the baby to be exposed to the same bacteria as the mother, which can protect against allergies and infection in the future. Infants who receive kangaroo care breast feed more easily, Lee says, and their mothers tend to breast feed for longer periods of time, which is “all good.”

Babies also seem to suffer less pain. Almost 20 years ago, Gray studied how babies respond to a heel prick to draw blood, a procedure that screens newborns for genetic disorders. He found that when healthy newborns had kangaroo care, there was less facial grimacing and crying suggesting pain, compared to babies who had been swaddled and had the procedure in their bassinets, “sort of alone.”

One of the first places to show how this technique can help preemies was Colombia in the 1990s. There, hospitals with no access to incubators and other equipment often sent home preemies with no expectation that they would live. But doctors were surprised to see that babies whose mothers carried them close, skin to skin, not only survived but thrived.

This was a “serendipitous magical finding,” says Gray, suggesting that skin-to-skin contact acted something like a “natural incubator.”

Gray also points to the work of Myron Hofer, a psychiatrist with Columbia University Medical Center who studies attachment between mother and infants. Hofer coined the term “hidden regulators” that pass between mother and baby. It’s not just that mother and baby are together, Gray says, but also that the mother is in some way “programming the baby, the breathing, temperature and heart rate.”

That “magic” can also happen between baby and father, too, says Gray, if there’s skin-to-skin contact. If mothers or babies are very sick and have to be isolated, Gray suggests mothers take any opportunity to hold their infant skin to skin. Even a little bit of kangaroo contact, he says, can be beneficial.

A Woman’s Brain is Physically Changed When Pregnant

January 6, 2017

According to new research, pregnancy causes changes to brain structure that allows moms to adapt to care for their infants. The results showed that synapses are pruned to allow for greater empathy and understanding towards an infant; significant changes occurred in brain areas associated with functions necessary to manage the challenges of motherhood.

This is the first time a clinical study has observed the brain structure of women before and after pregnancy, tracking changes over a period of more than five years. The researchers from the University of Barcelona found an even reduction in grey matter in the medial frontal and posterior cortex line, and in some areas of the prefrontal and temporal cortex. These areas overlapped with regions of the brain related to empathy, which were activated while the mothers looked at images of their infants.

The study debunked the idea that pregnancy caused cognitive deficits or impacted memory function—the often referred to “baby brain” accusations pointed at pregnant women. Quite the opposite!

“These areas correspond to a great extent with a network associated with processes involved in social cognition and self-focused processing,” explained Susanna Carmona, a former UAB researchers and co-director of the study.

Rather than the scans indicating the women were losing brain cells, Elseline Hoekzema, co-lead author on a paper published in Nature Neuroscience on the study, believes it is a sign of “synaptic pruning.” “These changes may reflect, at least in part, a mechanism of synaptic pruning, which also takes place in adolescence, where weak synapses are eliminated giving way to more efficient and specialized neural networks,” she wrote.

The team compared MRI scans of 25 first-time mothers and 19 male partners, with scans from 20 women who had never had a baby or been pregnant, and 17 male partners. There were no changes to the men’s grey matter, but it’s not clear whether that is a result of biology or time spent with the infant. The authors found it was easy to identify whether a candidate had been pregnant or not, based on the reduction of grey matter in areas linked to social cognition.

“The findings point to an adaptive process related to the benefits of better detecting the needs of the child, such as identifying the newborn’s emotional state,” wrote one researcher. “Moreover, they provide primary clues regarding the neural basis of motherhood, perinatal mental health and brain plasticity in general.”

These changes last at least two years after birth; the team wants to study more women and for a greater length of time to see if the changes are ultimately temporary and linked to hormone levels.

Study Shows that Infants Understand More Than You Think

December 3, 2016

By the time she is 20 months old, your baby can use a spoon and a fork. She can throw a ball. She can find your favorite lipstick and feed it to the dog. She can drop your phone in the toilet and laugh. In fact, by 20 months old, she’s doing so many baffling things that you’ve probably wondered: what’s really going on inside that adorable yet frustrating little head of hers? How much does she actually understand about the world around her, and her place in it?

According to a study out of the Ecole Normal Supérieure in Paris, France, she knows a lot more than you’d think. Researchers there tested 20-month-old babies and found that infants are already capable of practicing a sophisticated form of thinking called metacognition. According to Dr. Sid Kouider, one of the authors of the study, metacognition is best described as a “gut feeling” about your knowledge, or lack thereof. It’s something we adult humans do on a regular basis—we realize when we face a problem that is too complex for us to answer.

As Donald Rumsfeld famously put it, “There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know.” Knowing what you don’t know? That’s metacognition— an intuition that you are wrong or have somehow made a mistake.

It was previously assumed that children develop this skill later in life. But, says Kouider, he and his colleagues found that even at this young age, “infants already know when they don’t know something, and they are able to signal this fact to their caregivers” in order to get help solving problems. Their understanding of the workings of their environment, and of their own place within that environment, is much more sophisticated than parents and educators ever imagined.

Infants are Motivated by Hearing Themselves

November 9, 2016

Apparently, the repetitive babbles of babies primarily are motivated by the infants’ ability to hear themselves. “Hearing is a critical aspect of infants’ motivation to make early sounds,” said study author Mary Fagan, an assistant professor of communication science and disorders in the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Health Professions.

“The fact that they attend to and learn from their own behaviors, especially in speech, highlights how infants’ own experiences help their language, social and cognitive development,” she added. This research, Fagan said, does not diminish the importance of the speech that babies hear from others. “We know they need to learn from others—but it raises our awareness that infants are not just passive recipients of what others say to them. They are actively engaged in their own developmental process.”

Fagan studied the babbles of 27 hearing infants and 16 infants with profound hearing loss before and after they received cochlear implants (small electronic devices embedded into the bone behind the ear that replace some functions of the damaged inner ear).

Before receiving cochlear implants, babies with profound hearing loss rarely produced repetitive vocalizations, such as ‘ba-ba’ or ‘da-da.’ Within a few months of receiving cochlear implants, the number of babies who produced repetitive vocalizations increased, the number of vocalizations that contained repetitive syllables increased, and the number of actual repetitions in the string, such as ‘ba-ba-ba-ba-ba,’ increased, Fagan said.

“The research tells us that infants are motivated by hearing the sounds they produce, so these sounds are functional in some way,” she said.

“INFANT STIM”

October 9, 2016

While no one disputes that infants are drawn naturally to the types of stimulation they need for healthy development, researchers do disagree about the value of artificially stimulating an infant’s distance senses. Advocates of early stimulation say that looking at stark black-and-white images (such as mobiles made of black-and-white bull’s-eyes, checkerboards, and stripes), listening to recordings (including recordings of white noise—monotonous sounds such as vacuum cleaners and car engines), and other sensory stimuli may speed an infant’s development and increase his intelligence, help an infant sleep, or soothe his colic.

While no one disputes that infants are drawn naturally to the types of stimulation they need for healthy development, researchers do disagree about the value of artificially stimulating an infant’s distance senses. Advocates of early stimulation say that looking at stark black-and-white images (such as mobiles made of black-and-white bull’s-eyes, checkerboards, and stripes), listening to recordings (including recordings of white noise—monotonous sounds such as vacuum cleaners and car engines), and other sensory stimuli may speed an infant’s development and increase his intelligence, help an infant sleep, or soothe his colic.

Our great concern about our children’s ability to compete on intelligence tests can drive us to accept programs that may or may not be valuable and that may, in fact, be detrimental to a child’s long-range emotional and spiritual development. The makers of products for babies often imply that our children will not be able to compete for money and status in an increasingly competitive environment unless they are weaned to certain objects and ways of processing information as early as possible. Attaching the infant to material objects as “sensory stimulators” certainly benefits the companies that produce the products and the experts who promote them.

At the same time, parents, who receive little or no cultural support for their role, are often relieved of stress and guilt by these mechanical interventions. I am concerned about our slowly deteriorating intuitive abilities and confidence in ourselves. We may one day come to believe that material objects are actually better stimulators, more competent soothers, and more efficient brain-developers than we are, and that without these products our babies will be deprived. Instead of providing emotional nurturing, spiritual teaching, and exploration of the living world, we work harder and harder to provide our infants with the “necessary” objects of stimulation.

At the same time, parents, who receive little or no cultural support for their role, are often relieved of stress and guilt by these mechanical interventions. I am concerned about our slowly deteriorating intuitive abilities and confidence in ourselves. We may one day come to believe that material objects are actually better stimulators, more competent soothers, and more efficient brain-developers than we are, and that without these products our babies will be deprived. Instead of providing emotional nurturing, spiritual teaching, and exploration of the living world, we work harder and harder to provide our infants with the “necessary” objects of stimulation.

As researchers become more interested in the incredible array of benefits that massage can bring to infants, their interest has not gone unnoticed by profit-seekers. Many years ago I joked that if we wanted to make a lot of money, we could make a “baby massage device” that could be turned on and applied to the baby. The only problem would be that all of the benefits of infant massage would be forfeited. To my immense shock and dismay, a company has actually made a “baby massager,” similar to the shiatsu massage devices so popular in malls (which usually end up in the closet, because nothing can ease tension like human touch). Many unknowing parents will buy it, thinking it will benefit their babies. But nothing can replace their loving hands.

According to an article in Digital Journal, “It won’t be long before exhausted parents everywhere can get much needed relief with a groundbreaking infant massaging device.” This device is being hailed as the answer to parents’ stress. The device “naturally” soothes a crying baby by simulating the mother’s touch. Called “unique and innovative,” the invention “also features quick clips for one-handed fastening to baby’s clothing; soft, relaxing music; and a playback of the mother’s voice, as well as safety features such as an auto shut-off if baby rolls on top of it.”

Generally, nothing much bothers me these days. But when I read these articles and saw photos of the device, I was floored. The purposes of infant massage include making eye-to-eye contact, hearing a parent’s voice, smelling the parent’s unique scent, and experiencing skin-to-skin touch, all important in the bonding of babies with their parents. Massage also helps develop gastrointestinal, circulatory, and respiratory functions. The massage taught by the International Association of Infant Massage emphasizes emotional and spiritual bonding between baby and parent; each stroke is different and has its own function. Stroke sequences to help babies relax and pass painful gas are included. The massage we teach takes from fifteen minutes to half an hour—hardly an addition to a parent’s stress. In fact, it has been found that massaging the baby relaxes and soothes the parent as well. Regular infant massage relaxes, soothes, bonds, and helps eliminate problems such as colic; a device couldn’t possibly replace a parent’s hands delivering a real massage.

When I saw this device, I thought, “Here we go—soon we’ll have mechanical devices we can put our babies into, so we won’t have to touch them or make time for soothing them at all.” It is shocking to me that the writers of these articles hail the device as “groundbreaking” and love its “sleek, futuristic design.” There are no studies proving that this type of device has any benefits at all, much less the benefits of a parent delivering a massage skin to skin, responding to the baby’s cues, and looking into the baby’s eyes with love, singing or talking to the baby all the while.

Developmental psychologists today agree that infants are natural learners and will extract from a warm, loving environment whatever information they need. The basic security provided by a strong parent-infant bond enables babies to reach out to their world and to develop to their full capacity physically, mentally, and spiritually. Infant massage provides a wealth of fascinating sensory experiences. Your eyes, your hairline, your smile, your scent, and the sound of your voice telling a story or singing a lullaby provide not only the interesting contrast your baby looks for but also warm, loving feedback. It not only speeds the myelination of her nerves but lets her know she has come into a living, breathing world. There is no sweeter music that the sound of a mother singing; there will never be a toy that can tell a story the way a real, live daddy can. No one can invent a substitute for a parent’s loving touch. No vestibular stimulation device can compare with being rocked and carried in loving arms. And as for white noise, nothing can surpass the sounds of breath and heart in synchrony.

Kangaroo Care in NICU Decreases Maternal Stress

August 2, 2016

Already linked to happier, healthier newborns, a study finds that snuggling with babies in intensive care eases mothers’ anxiety that can interfere with bonding.

Research shows that stable parent-child bonds are fundamental to healthy development. For parents of babies born prematurely or with special medical needs, this early bonding can be interrupted by the complex medical care required in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

An ongoing study conducted at a large metropolitan NICU shows that a little skin-to-skin snuggling between mothers and babies can go a long way toward reducing maternal stress levels.

The study, presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition, examined mothers’ stress levels before and after they held their babies “kangaroo style” (skin-to-skin inside the pouch of the parent’s shirt) for at least one hour.

“We found that all of the mothers reported an objective decrease in their stress level after skin-to-skin contact with their babies,” said neonatologist Natalia Isaza, MD, FAAP of Children’s National Health System in Washington, DC. This was especially true regarding the reported stress of being separated from their infants, feeling helpless and unable to protect their infant from pain and painful procedures, and the general experience in the NICU, she said.

Birthweights of the infants ranged from less than 1 pound to over 8 pounds (0.38 to 3.7 kg), and their ages varied from 3 to 109 days. The infants were being treated for a diversity of health issues, with more than half requiring oxygen support.

“We already know there are physiological benefits in the newborns when they are held skin-to-skin,” Dr. Isaza said, such as stabilization of heart rate, breathing patterns and blood oxygen levels, gains in sleep time and weight, decreased crying, greater breastfeeding success and earlier hospital discharge. “Now we have more evidence that skin-to-skin contact can also decrease parents’ stress that can interfere with bonding, health and emotional wellness, and the interpersonal relations of parents, as well as breastfeeding rates.”

“This is a simple technique to benefit both parent and child that perhaps should be encouraged in all NICUs,” Dr. Isaza said.

What Happens When You Hear Your Baby’s Cries

July 4, 2016

It’s almost impossible for parents not to listen to their baby’s cries.

A new study out of the University of Toronto has found that babies affect adult cognitive functions in very distinct ways, sometimes rattling our ability to make everyday decisions.

The study found that infant cries make parents pay less attention to the task they’re working on, more so than a baby’s laugh. These cries specifically create “cognitive conflict,” which controls our attention spans and is necessary to perform many everyday tasks.

“Parents are constantly making a variety of everyday decisions and have competing demands on their attention,” said Joanna Dudek, lead author of the study, in a statement. “They may be in the middle of doing chores when the doorbell rings and their child starts to cry. How do they stay calm, cool and collected, and how do they know when to drop what they’re doing and pick up the child?”

Researchers found this by playing parents a short audio clip of a baby laughing or crying and having them complete a Stroop task, which asked them to identify the color of a word while ignoring the meaning of the word. The researchers then measured brain activity, and found that there was reduced attention when they heard the baby cry.

Still, the researchers were quick to point out that this may mean that a baby’s cry turns on someone’s ability to respond to a child’s distress—switching on our parenting skills.

“If an infant’s cry activates cognitive conflict in the brain, it could also be teaching parents how to focus their attention more selectively,” said David Haley, co-author and associate professor of psychology at U of T Scarborough. “It’s this cognitive flexibility that allows parents to rapidly switch between responding to their baby’s distress and other competing demands in their lives–which, paradoxically, may mean ignoring the infant momentarily.”

All parents struggle to understand their baby’s cry.

Understanding a baby’s cry is no easy feat, as newborns and infants tend to cry for a number of different reasons, including hunger, tiredness and discomfort, being overwhelmed. Babies will also cry when they’re feeling sick, frustrated or lonely, essentially using tears to talk.

“Simply put, babies cry because they cannot talk,” Elizabeth Pantley, author of Gentle Baby Care. “Babies are human beings, and they have needs and desires, just as we do, but they can’t express them … their cries are the only way they can say, ‘Help me! Something isn’t right here!”

Every baby sounds different, though, which sometimes requires parents to really listen to their child’s voice to understand what they want.

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In fact, as Nick Anderson wrote for Deseret News National, babies from different countries have different accents when they cry, even though they don’t know language yet. This comes from a study out of the journal Current Biology that found that an infant’s cry is shaped by their native language. For example, French babies have a “rising melody,” while German infants have a “falling melody.”

Technology can make it easier for you to understand your baby. Understanding a baby’s cry isn’t an easy feat for parents because cries often mean different things for every baby. That’s why researchers have tried creating technologies that can help parents understand their babies.

For example, the National Taiwan Normal University created a listening device that attempts to translate your baby’s cry into words. It captures the sound of the baby’s cry and uses data it has collected of other cries from babies made at similar times and frequencies to identify what’s wrong with the child.

“Most parents learn to recognize different kinds of cries,” a spokesman said. “But there are subtle differences that may escape even the instinctively tuned sense of a mother. Fortunately, technology has lent an ear.”

Similarly, researchers at the National Taiwan University Hospital Yunlin created the Infant Cries Translator, which can identify four different crying sounds based on a database of close to 200,000 crying sounds from 100 different newborn babies.

Researcher Chang Chuan-yu told Reuters that the app has a 92 percent accuracy for babies who are less than two weeks old. Meanwhile, it’s closer to 84 and 85 percent accuracy for babies who are one or two months old, and 77 percent for babies who are four months old.

“For the new parent like us, we are most afraid of seeing the baby crying and then not knowing what we should do. When we don’t know what we should do, this app can make some simple judgments for us, so we are able to know what our next step is,” new father Guo Young-ming told Reuters.

Parents can still understand their baby’s cry without fancy apps.

Eva Benmeleh Roditi, a child psychologist, said there are six different baby cries, like the slow, rhythmic cries or the high-pitched, screechy cries, that all have specific meanings. Understanding these cry patterns can help parents understand both themselves and others to figure out what their child is trying to say.

“Unfortunately, your baby does not come with a translator. So it takes a lot of time, patience and a little bit of guidance to figure out what’s she trying to say,” Roditi said in a video for Bundoo. “But before you know it, you’ll become your baby’s No. 1 interpreter for the rest of the world.”

We in IAIM teach parents that listening to their infants is important. You listen just as you would listen to someone who is coming to you for support. Watch the baby’s affect (the look on her face, how her mouth moves, etc.). You can intuit exactly what your baby is saying to you, and mirror it back to her. “Ohhh, you are feeling so frustrated.” “It hurts in your tummy… yes it does. I understand.” “It’s just too much, isn’t it?” You’ll see your baby’s mouth move as if he is talking. You’ll see your baby’s face change as if he knows you are listening.

Babies never, ever cry to manipulate their parents. They don’t know how to manipulate. Their feelings are just as real as yours, and need acknowledging. Parenting a crying infant requires great patience, active listening skills, and the ability to acknowledge both your own frustration and your baby’s. When you teach, don’t forget to cover this material in your classes. Most parents have no idea what to do when their babies cry “for no reason.” Babies never cry for no reason.

 

Baby-Talk May Be More Educational than Imagined

June 4, 2016

Some people think that the best way to teach language to a tiny baby is to speak as if the infant is another adult—because adult sounds, cadence and tone of voice are what the child is eventually supposed to learn. But newly published research using mathematical models finds the best way to help a baby learn might actually be to follow parents’ instincts and use “parentese,” a sing-songy voice that exaggerates the sounds the baby hears.

Patrick Shafto, an associate professor of mathematics and computer science at Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N), who conducted the research— published in Psychological Review says, “Our intuitions are surprisingly right. Why do we speak funny to babies? It’s actually to help them learn the relevant properties of language.”

Shafto and colleagues deconstructed vowel sounds in adult speech. They then created a mathematical model that predicted understandable speech patterns from scratch, “to show what it might look like if speech were designed to actually teach children.” They then compared their invented teaching pattern with the differing speech methods that adults direct at each other and at infants, and found that infant-directed speech was the closer match.

“The sounds that are selected exaggerate the important properties that babies need to attend to and learn about,” Shafto says. “If you exaggerate in the correct way, what you get is a learner who learns more quickly from less data.” It makes sense to Shafto that over time the baby’s brain is then able to process the “parentese” into regular language.

Shafto says his mathematical model is an elegant way to think about infants’ learning. Proving that infant-directed speech is more educational is difficult by definition because babies not even a year old are too young to speak, so it is challenging to probe any language skills they have learned.

But there may be a different group of learners who could demonstrate the value of a mathematical learning model. Shafto says American adults don’t only speak in exaggerated ways to infants. They also distort their speech with pets and with foreign language speakers—but they do it differently for each. Pets hear sing-songy voices with no effort by the speaker to exaggerate vowels to make the animals understand—a pure play to cuteness that differs from speech intended to teach a baby. Foreigners get the opposite—no condescending sing-song, but a concerted effort to exaggerate vowel sounds—the better to help the listener understand a language he or she doesn’t know.

Because foreign language speakers’ learning of English can be measured, Shafto says it might be possible to use mathematics to fine tune the speech patterns of instructors in ways that enhance the teaching of English as a second language. “By manipulating only the things that are important and highlighting the meaningful distinctions in the language. We might be able to make English more learnable for someone who speaks a different language natively.”

According to Shafto, the bottom line of this new study, and of the work he is doing, is that math and the study of language learning go extremely well together. “Learning these vowel categories is a complicated problem,” he says. “There are lots of moving parts, so it’s not the sort of thing that one can easily intuit.”

“I think it’s a nice example of why mathematical rigor is important in areas where you least expect it,” Shafto adds, “such as understanding why we talk in a silly way to children.”

6 Must-Know Facts About a Baby’s Brain

May 1, 2016

1. A baby’s brain grows quickly
After birth, the human brain grows rapidly, more than doubling to reach 60% of its adult size by the time he is sampling his first birthday cake. By kindergarten, the brain has reached its full size but it may not finish developing until the child is in his mid-20s.

2. Lantern vs flashlight
Baby brains have many more neuronal connections than the brains of adults. They also have less inhibitory neurotransmitters. As a result, the baby’s perception of reality is less focused than adults. They are vaguely aware of everything—a sensible strategy considering they don’t yet know what’s important. We can liken a  baby’s perception to a lantern, scattering light across the room, where adult perception is more like a flashlight, consciously focused on specific things but ignoring background details.

3. Babbling signals learning
Within their lantern’s light, babies focus momentarily. When they do, they usually make babbling sounds to convey interest. The nonsense syllables babies spout is the acoustic version of a furrowed brow. Few signal to adults that they are ready to learn. What makes babies smarter is talking to them, dialogue is best, where a parent responds within the pauses of an infant’s vocalizations.

4. Brains can be overwhelmed
Their need for human interaction doesn’t mean they should be tickled silly day and night. Babies have short attention spans and can easily be over-stimulated. Sometimes, the interaction they need is simply help calming down. This can be provided by rocking, dimming lights or swaddling flailing limbs that babies have yet to figure out how to control. Massage provides both stimulation and relaxation, teaching a baby to calm at her parent’s voice and touch.

5. Educational DVDs aren’t worth it
Recent research suggests that social responses are fundamental to a child’s ability to fully learn language. Babies divide up the world between things that respond to them and things that don’t. Things that don’t are not worth it. A recording does not follow a baby’s cues, which is why infant DVDs, have been found to be ineffective.

6. They need more than parents
Researchers theorize that spending time with non-parental caregivers—a doting grandparent, a daycare teacher, a family friend—helps infants learn to read different facial expressions and expand their ability to take the perspectives of others. They use adult mental processes for figuring others’ emotions by the time they are seven months old. Just be sure before you hand over your lovely bundle, that the person interacting with the baby is nurturing, non-invasive, positive, and loving—all the time.

KANGAROO CARE HELPS PREEMIES AND FULL TERM BABIES, TOO February 2, 2017

When Ali Andrew Li was born on Jan. 7, he was gently placed on his mother’s chest, where doctors cleaned and examined him and covered him with a warm blanket. “I just loved it,” his mother, Salma Shabaik, a family physician who lives in Los Angeles, says. “It was really nice to have the baby […]

A Woman’s Brain is Physically Changed When Pregnant January 6, 2017

According to new research, pregnancy causes changes to brain structure that allows moms to adapt to care for their infants. The results showed that synapses are pruned to allow for greater empathy and understanding towards an infant; significant changes occurred in brain areas associated with functions necessary to manage the challenges of motherhood. This is […]

Study Shows that Infants Understand More Than You Think December 3, 2016

By the time she is 20 months old, your baby can use a spoon and a fork. She can throw a ball. She can find your favorite lipstick and feed it to the dog. She can drop your phone in the toilet and laugh. In fact, by 20 months old, she’s doing so many baffling […]

Infants are Motivated by Hearing Themselves November 9, 2016

Apparently, the repetitive babbles of babies primarily are motivated by the infants’ ability to hear themselves. “Hearing is a critical aspect of infants’ motivation to make early sounds,” said study author Mary Fagan, an assistant professor of communication science and disorders in the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Health Professions. “The fact that they attend […]

“INFANT STIM” October 9, 2016

While no one disputes that infants are drawn naturally to the types of stimulation they need for healthy development, researchers do disagree about the value of artificially stimulating an infant’s distance senses. Advocates of early stimulation say that looking at stark black-and-white images (such as mobiles made of black-and-white bull’s-eyes, checkerboards, and stripes), listening to […]