Premature Birth and Brain Development

The human brain grows at an incredible rate during development. It may surprise you to know it adds 250,000 neurons every minute. When born, an infant has nearly all the neurons you will have, even though the brain continues to grow for a few additional years after birth, and by the child reaches two years of age it is nearly 80% of the size of an adult brain.

Babies born prematurely will not have a fully developed brain yet. All the neurons have not had a chance to develop either, and it will take some time to catch up. There is good news, however. By the time the child reaches four most usually catch up.

There is no proof that low birth weight children will have problems later in life. Research at the University of Southampton, and the UCL Institute of Child Health in the UK, links variations in brain functions and low birth rate, but it still is not conclusive.

Although we are born with nearly the number of neurons that we have as adults, they are not necessarily the same ones. Some die off, and new ones are formed. New connections are made all the time, and as we age and the neurons start to die off naturally, the new connections become more efficient.

The glia performs many important functions for normal brain activity, including insulating nerve cells with myelin.

According to the study in England, birth weight is not as much a factor in slow brain development as the environment while they are growing in the uterus. This would include the mother smoking, drinking to excess or using drugs. It would also include an accident that damages the fetal walls, or the mother in distress from diabetes, high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia and other problems that would cause the baby to be born early and have developmental problems.

What they found was the harmful environments can cause depression, reduced cognitive ability, higher response to stress and variations in brain development later in life.

The research showed that children with a low birth weight had greater blood flow to the right hemisphere – more prevalent if the placenta was larger than normal as well. This increase in blood flow, or hyperactivity, to the right side of the brain has been linked to depression as the child gets older, which can cause problems with memorizing and concentration.

This does not automatically guarantee that children with low birth weight will be slow developers or function at a lower cognitive level. There is no convincing evidence to prove that. There is a further need to investigate which particular developmental influences alter brain function later in life.

The English study does support the growing amount of evidence that says negative fetal environments during pregnancy lead to smaller birth weight and larger placental sizes, and that can have long-term effects on the brain and it’s functions.

There is evidence that, with proper memory training, learning and the right “brain food” the brain is able to produce more brain cells, even as get much older. In addition, “glial cells” in the brain continue to divide and multiply.

 

 

About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory expert. As a memory speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. .

 

Resources:

Memoryzine.com – Brain Development and Function Variations Linked to Birth Weight and Placental Size: http://memoryzine.com/2011/02/22/brain-development-and-function-variations-linked-to-birth-weight-and-placental-size/

Neuroscience for Kids – http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/dev.html

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