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How your baby’s brain develops

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Your baby's brain begins to develop in the womb.
  • Your baby's brain continues to grow and develop for many years after birth.
  • Create a supportive, loving environment filled with warm, gentle interactions to help your baby's brain develop.
  • Milestones are developmental achievements which help track your baby's progress.

The human brain

The human brain has 3 main parts:

Brain stem and cerebellum: These connect the brain to the spinal cord and control the body's breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, balance and reflexes.

Limbic system: This sits on top of the brain stem and looks after many different functions including:

  • emotional regulation
  • thirst and hunger
  • memory and learning
  • the body's daily rhythms

Cerebral cortex: This consists of a left and right hemisphere and sits on top of the limbic system. The cerebral cortex is divided into 4 lobes / regions:

  • occipital lobe — for vision
  • temporal lobe — for hearing, language and social interaction
  • frontal lobe — for memory, self-regulation, planning and problem solving
  • parietal lobe — for bodily sensations such as pain, pressure, heat and cold
Diagram showing different parts of the brain.

Diagram showing different parts of the brain.

Your baby's brain development in the womb

Your baby's brain has been developing since they were in the womb. This is also known as in-utero or fetal brain development. In the first trimester of pregnancy, nerve connections are formed that enable your baby to move around in the womb. While in the second trimester, more nerve connections and made.

In the third trimester, the cerebral cortex becomes more active, preparing your baby for future learning experiences.

By the time your baby is born, they can hear (they will know your voice!) and see a little. Their brain will continue to grow and develop for many years.

Your baby's brain development after birth

The experiences and relationships your baby has in their early years help shape the adult they will become. Loving relationships and stimulating experiences are vital for your baby's development. These give your baby opportunities to communicate, move and learn about their world.

Play is the main way your baby learns and develops. It helps them solve problems, experiment and explore.

Other factors that can influence healthy brain development include:

  • your baby's general health
  • the food your baby eats
  • genes
  • your baby's relationship with you and other carers
  • how active your baby is
  • the experiences your baby has

While babies develop skills at different times, development unfolds in the same order in most children. For example, children learn to walk before they learn to run.

How you can help your baby's brain develop

Your baby's brain develops through use — when your baby interacts, observes and tries new things.

You can help your baby's development by creating an interesting environment with different types of activities that offer your baby the chance to play. It's through play that your baby will learn important skills such as talking, listening, moving, thinking, solving problems and socialising.

You can play and spend time with your baby by:

Create a warm, loving environment to help your baby feel safe and loved. This promotes brain development. Everyday moments, such as having a bath and eating, are great opportunities for you to get to know each other and build your relationship.

It's these moments that help your baby's brain form new connections. This in turn prepares your baby for the next stage in their development.

Other things your baby needs include:

  • Healthy food to help them grow. Good foods for your baby are breast milk (or formula). Once your baby is ready for solid foods, iron-rich foods and a balanced diet of fresh vegetables, fruit, grains, dairy and proteins (such as meat, chicken and eggs) is important.
  • Moving and being active to develop their motor skills. This allows them to explore their surroundings, which helps them think and learn.
  • Loving relationships and interactions with others. This will boost your baby's communication skills and understanding about the world around them.
  • Sleep is vital for your baby's development. While all babies sleep in different ways at different times, help them get enough quality sleep to ensure their development.


Milestones are developmental achievements that are helpful for tracking your baby's development. They can be grouped into 6 categories:

  1. Gross motor skills — This includes the control and coordination of large muscles. For example: walking, lifting, throwing and sitting.
  2. Fine motor skills — This is the control and coordination of small muscles. For example: holding or picking up items.
  3. Vision
  4. Hearing
  5. Speech and language
  6. Social and emotional development — This involves learning to understand and control their emotions and interact with others.

You can find more information about each milestone and when to expect them in your baby's infant health record (Child Health Record Book). This book records important information about your baby from birth. You can also speak to your child health nurse.

When should I see my doctor?

See your doctor or child and family health nurse if:

  • your baby isn't meeting the milestones listed in their child health record book
  • you are concerned about your baby's vision, hearing, communication, behaviour, movement or growth

Resources and support

To learn more about your baby's brain development throughout childhood, visit the Starting Blocks website.

Queensland Government's Early Childhood Education and Care provides information on brain development, including your role and important milestones.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2024

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