The Wonder and Awe of the Infant Brain

Exciting news for new parents

Attachment to the unborn commences at conception. The process is enhanced by seeing the baby and the pulsating heart in the ultrasound. Feeling the baby move, experiencing uterine growth and expansion set the scene for an unique dyadic relationship.

The climactic birth with its dramatic release of hormones and neurochemicals prime the parents and baby for their special relationship.

Attachment, the first or primal relationship between parents and child, is the foundation of all future relationships. This relationship shapes the capacity for the baby to love.

The primary care giver (usually the mother) in the attachment relationship programs the infant’s brain. The baby in turn holds the unique mother's face in memory. It is in this unique relationship that  the neural networks are sculpted.

Greenspan described six developmental stages for the infant namely, regulation and attention by 3 months, engaging in relationships by 5 months, interacts in a purposeful manner and becomes a two-way communicator by 9 months, organises chains of interaction for simple and complex problem solving and forms a sense of self by 14 to 18 months, uses ideas (words/symbols) to convey intentions or feelings by 24 to 30 months and creates logical bridges between ideas by 36 to 48 months.

The child becomes attuned to the mother’s facial expression, vocalisation called motherese, laughter and play. The social/emotional relationship reinforces in the child's mind the state of oneness, focused attention, awareness. It shapes not only the current relationship but also the child's future personality.

Focused attached and attuned parenting is the basis of normal human development and relies on the cultivation of its relationship with others.

Circuits for self-regulation are set up. The basis of self-regulation is to enrich rather than enslaves our lives. In the neural pathways our empathy are laid down. Empathy is an innate human quality that arises out of a quality attachment relationship. A disrupted attachment can cause stress, inattention, emotional instability and disconnection.

A child develops the skills to see the mind of mother or father but also that of another person. Emotionally sound infants learn to comfort themselves by treating themselves as their caretakers have managed them, leaving them less vulnerable to upheavals in the emotional brain.

In the recent two books by Perry and Szalavitz, we learn how traumatised children teach us about loss, violence, stress,love and healing. "Born to Love" is a precedented exploration of how and why the brain learns to bond with others - a stirring call to protect our children from the threats to their capacity to love.


- The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog - Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz, Basic Books, 2007
- Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential - and Endangered - Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz, William Morrow Publisher, 2010
- Building Healthy Minds - The Six Experiences that Create Intelligence and Emotional Growth in Babies and Young Children - Stanley Greenspan and Nancy Breslau Lewis, Perseus Books, Cambrigde, MA,1999

Dr George L Williams
Paediatrician / Perinatologist
St George Private Hospital
2 Short Street
Kogarah NSW 2217
9th December 2010