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Even though brain development continues long after birth, the foundations of healthy brain development start during the prenatal period. Neurogenesis, the process of forming neurons, begins shortly after conception. The processes of migration, synaptogenesis, and myelination also begin prenatally. By the time a baby is born, the brain has 100 billion neurons and more than 50 trillion synapses.
The health of the expectant mother during pregnancy is vital to the well-being of her baby. Women who are pregnant should make sure to have a healthy diet, appropriate physical activity, and adequate rest, and should take steps to manage their stress. Pregnant women should avoid alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, and should take medications only under their doctor's advice.
Prenatal care should begin within the first two months of pregnancy. Women should see a doctor as soon as they suspect that they might be pregnant, and should continue regular prenatal care throughout the pregnancy. High quality, ongoing, regular prenatal care can help ensure that both mother and baby are healthy throughout the pregnancy.
Good health practices after birth begin by establishing regular routines for adequate sleep and physical activity. Sleep is important to brain development. Infants do not sleep on the same time schedules as adults or older children. Newborn babies sleep up to 16 hours per day, but only for a few hours at a time. This pattern is related to deeding because babies must eat every 2 to 4 hours throughout the day and night. Although many parents want their babies to sleep through the night, this is not the baby’s usual sleep pattern for the first three months.
Regular physical activity is essential for healthy children. Being physically active for at least 60 to 90 minutes each day helps the brain strengthen connections for motor skills, balance, vision, and many other abilities. Activities such as exercise, dancing, or throwing and catching a ball help the motor areas of the brain develop stronger connections.
Beginning at birth, all young children need regular well-child check-ups with the same doctor to monitor and assure healthy overall development, as well as healthy brain development. Regular check-ups also provide a chance for the doctor to:
The American Academy of Pediatrics website has a wide variety of additional information on good health during infancy and childhood.