Few Facts on Brain Growth During Childhood

Entire childhood development is a miracle indeed, and the process of brain growth is the most fascinating facet of child growth. It is a dynamic phase when a single cell is transformed into an efficiently functioning adult formed of millions cells: Intelligence, memory, motor control, sensory perception and special senses spread tentacles throughout the body.

Prenatal brain development

The very thought of optimal fetal brain development first strikes only when a baby is noticed to have some neurological abnormality, like big head, meningomyelocele or seizures.

The brain growth starts very early in pregnancy; even before mother actually knows that she is pregnant.

Prenatal and Infancy Brain Development

The primitive neural tube is formed in the fourth week of pregnancy. And the prenatal brain development shows a sharp rise from 20 to 36 weeks of gestation.

Though the entire growth and development of a child is genetically engineered, fetal growth can often deviate from normal due to external influences.

Newborns growth:
For head circumference growth and brain development click here.

Infant brain development

Most of the neurons (brain cells) are formed before birth, but most of the synapses (connections among cells) develop during infancy and early childhood.

Nevertheless, brain's rapid growth phase continues through out infancy.Brain growth correlates with increase in head circumference till 6 years of age.

The average rate of increase in head circumference

  • At birth 35 cm.

  • First 3 mo. of life increases by 2 cm. per month.

  • 3 mo. to 12 mo. increases by 2 cm. every 3 months.

  • 1 year to 3 years increases by 1 cm. every 6 months.

  • 3 years to 5 years increases by 1 cm. every year.

  • Attains adult head size by 6 years of age.

The formula to calculate the expected head circumference for the height is applicable only in first year of life:

Average Head Circumference (cm) = [ Height (cm) + 12 ] divided by 2

Consequently, at 1 year of age an infant has:

  • 90 percent of the adult brain size

  • 101 percent increase of total brain size; majority of brain growth is due to increase in the gray matter. In contrast the increase in brain’s white matter volume is noted to be only 11 percent.

  • 149 percent increase in gray matter.

  • 240 percent increase in cerebellum size.

Infant in second year of life further attains:

  • An increase of 15 percent in the total brain size

  • By 15 to 18 months of age has cerebellum of an adult size.

This implies that an eighteen months old infant has full neurological support for coordination of movements and to balance body's posture. However, the effective development follows some what later effectuated by sequence of learning experiences.

The normal brain development and growth is extremely dynamic in the first
2 years of life. Caring interaction with caretakers and the environment at large is most critical in infant's brain development.

Growth varies in the size for different brain structures between individuals and genders. The current knowledge on prenatal and infancy's brain growth pattern is limited and also not exactly comprehensive. Yet there are reasons to believe that early childhood development plays a significant role in certain neuro-developmental disorders, including autism and schizophrenia.

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During teenage

Brain development is a continuous process. It continues well into teens and adulthood, but at a much slower pace. Total cerebral and grey matter volumes peak between 10–20 years; earlier in girls than in boys.

Average adult brain weighs about 1.5 kilo with cerebral volume being approximately 10 percent larger in boys than in girls; 1130 cubic centimeters in females and 1260 cubic centimeters in males.

Studies show that during teenage development, the connections between neurons affecting emotional, physical, and mental abilities are yet in the process of development, which accounts for teenagers' impulsive and emotional approach. Moreover, by attribute of neural plasticity, childhood trauma and abusive experiences block the neuronal development in specific areas of the brain.

Intelligence

Children's intelligence is seen in their creativity skills. It is a common belief, that individuals with a large brain are more intelligent: Medically it can be only partially correlated to the general concept of intelligence and real-world performance. Nor have clinical studies till date demonstrated any specific area in human brain that is assigned for creativity. Moreover, brain volumes do not correlate with child’s cognitive abilities.

However to some extent, cognitive skills could be genetically influenced.

Genetics plays a major role in overall brain growth. Its effects vary for different areas within the brain. Most noted hereditary effect is seen in development of frontal lobes of the brain.

Frontal lobes home the centers for intelligence and therefore could influence cognitive development.

In males, IQ correlates more with gray matter volume in the frontal and parietal lobes; whereas in females, it correlates with gray matter volume in the frontal lobe and Broca's area- the brain area involved in language efficiency.

Brain growth continues throughout life

Recent studies have documented increase in gray matter of adults’ brains on learning new vocabulary and on developing new cognitive ability or motor skill.

Neuronal plasticity

Neuronal plasticity plays a major role in continuous brain growth and development. In event of new increased learning or brain injury, the neuron reservoir created during prenatal and infancy phases is reached to replenish the requirement. Read more on this aspect of brain growth under childhood development

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Recommended reads:

Creativity area in human brain

Brain changes in abused children

Cerebral palsy

Related pages of interest are indexed in the right column

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