When your baby is born, he has nearly all the neurons -- brain cells -- he will ever have. However, his brain is still developing by forming complex pathways between these cells and between the brain and body. An infant's brain continues to grow until it reaches adult size at about the age of 7 years. Injury or damage to the head can disrupt nerve growth, causing problems in brain development.
You are helping your baby's mental and physical health by rocking him to sleep. Normal interaction with your baby through facial expressions, speaking, singing, cradling and simply responding to his needs, is critical for normal brain development. This social exchange is necessary for the developing architecture of an infant's brain. The "Center On The Developing Child" at Harvard University reports that neglect by a parent or caregiver can lead to abnormal brain development in a baby. If responses to a baby's need for communication or cries for attention are not met adequately, he can develop learning, behavior, social adjustment and mental health problems, as well as chronic physical disease later in life.
Premature babies are at higher risk for developing a number of health problems, including brain development. MayoClinic.com notes that premature babies are more likely to have slower brain development, which can cause impaired cognitive skills and learning disabilities. This lag in brain development can also lead to some psychological and behavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety and problems with social interaction with other children. Premature babies that are born before 30 weeks may also develop impaired vision and even blindness due to a damage to the nerves at the back of the eyes.
Premature babies are also at risk of a condition called hydrocephalus, which occurs when there is fluid accumulation in the brain. According to MayoClinic.com, babies born at less than 28 weeks are at risk of an intraventricular hemorrhage, bleeding inside the brain. This can lead to increased pressure inside the skill, causing further bleeding and permanent brain injury. Treatment includes surgery to drain the fluid in the brain.
In some cases, brain development can be hindered by injury or damage to the infant's brain during pregnancy, at birth or very early in life. One condition this can cause is cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects movement, posture and muscle tone. MayoClinic.com notes that this developmental disorder can result from poor blood circulation, insufficient oxygen to the brain, infection or undernourishment. At the sign of any telltale symptoms, a doctor who suspects cerebral palsy will conduct blood tests and scans of the baby's brain to make an accurate diagnosis.
Your baby's skull is designed to allow his rapidly developing brain to grow; it is composed of six bones that are joined by fibrous sutures that allow it to expand. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes explains that if one or more of these sutures hardens and closes too early, it can affect brain development. This condition, called craniosynostosis, causes increased pressure on the brain and normal development. Craniosyntosis can lead to seizures, blindness, metal retardation and developmental delays. Treatment usually involves surgery to open the closed skull suture and allow the brain to develop normally.