The Unborn Brain

Broca’s Area, Neurons and Grey matter later, we’ve seen the structure of the brain and the central nervous system, and have a rough idea of how the processes going on in there. So now what we want to know is how does it apply to our children, and how many of these processes are they capable of?

Well on a physical level, the answer is quite a lot!! At around the fourth week of pregnancy a human embryo will ‘fold over’ to form a neural tube that will later become the central nervous system (i.e.: the brain and spinal cord). Neurons then begin to form by the neural tube at around the seventh week of pregnancy.

By the tenth week of pregnancy, the first layer of the cerebral cortex is forming (overall there will be six layers), and some people have guessed that “at the peak of neuron production… 250,000 are created each minute” (Cook & Cook 2005). Amazingly, after around 20 weeks of causing havoc in your belly, your baby’s cerebral cortex has somewhere in the region of 80 billion or so neurons – which is just about all any of us ever have in there!!

From here, the brain development shifts to forming connections amongst the numerous neurons, and by the time the ever impending birth comes around, your baby’s brain pretty much resembles the outward appearance of an adults – although they still have much growing to do.

The strange thing is, that in the period from early childhood and those ever dreaded teenage years, a process of ‘synaptic pruning’ takes place and synapses are then lost, rather than gained. What this basically means is that the synapses your child uses (those that are activated by either brain activity or environmental input) are kept, and those that aren’t used are dropped – which in a sense streamlines the brain. Some researchers have even suggested that during childhood “100,000 synapses can be lost every second” (Cook & Cook 2005).

Again, information sourced mostly from ‘Child Development, Cook & Cook 2005 edition

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