Arts & Sciences Brain development/Law/Policy School of Medicine

Five factors to ensure an infant thrives

Environmental stimulation and positive caregiving are two of the five factors that help a baby thrive. (Photo: Shutterstock)

There are basic resources every baby needs for the best possible chance to develop as a healthy well-functioning human.

Start with good nutrition, breast milk if possible. That baby is going to need stimulation, lots of looking, reciprocal interactions, exposure to language and interesting stimuli. If at all possible, you should live in a place where you don’t have to constantly be looking over your shoulder in fear while you coo at the baby. Lastly, you must help babies learn how to regulate themselves, including developing regular circadian rhythms and sleep.

In short, focus on the “thrive 5:” five conditions to ensure an infant in the first year of life has what is needed for healthy development. Those conditions include environmental stimulation, nutrition, neighborhood safety, positive caregiving and regular circadian rhythms and sleep.  

The finding sounds simple, and yet, it has not yet been prioritized for many reasons, including the fact that researchers had not provided empirical data to support making the “thrive 5” a public health priority.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis think it’s time to change that. In new research published in JAMA Pediatrics, Deanna Barch, PhD and Joan Luby, MD make the case that “thrive factors” are a key element of healthy human brain, behavioral and cognitive development.

“When they have access to these basic supports, even in the face of adverse environments, it enhances their brain development, cognition (measures of IQ) and social-emotional development,” said Luby, MD, the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Child Psychiatry at the School of Medicine.

There have been plenty of studies touting the benefits of individual thrive factors, such as encouraging breast-feeding to facilitate growth in general, but this new study looks at several key factors known to influence brain development and shows their relationship to outcomes at age 3.

“The novelty here is putting them all together and thinking of them as a constellation of things that are necessary and important for a child to be able to thrive,” said Barch, PhD, the vice dean of research, a professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences and the Gregory B. Couch Professor of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine.

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