Baby brains grow to half adult size within 3 months, MRI shows

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  • Published: Aug 12, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: MRI Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Baby brains grow to half adult size within 3 months, MRI shows

An MRI study of the brains of babies has shown that they reach 64% of adult size within 3 months after birth, with male brains growing faster then those of females.

The study, which could lead to advances in detecting early disorders in brain development, was carried out by researchers in the US and Norway and is described in JAMA Neurology. This is the first time that MRI has been used to determine the brain volume of newborns and track its growth.

At birth, both male and female brains are about 33% of adult size but the growth rate of female brains lags behind that of the males. The average rate is about 1% per day, slowing to about 0.4% within 3 months.

Babies remaining longer in the womb had larger brains and premature babies still had smaller brains than full-term babies after 3 months, even though they grew faster. "We found that being born a week premature, for example, resulted in a brain 4-5% smaller than expected for a full term baby," said first author Dominic Holland from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

"At 90 days post-delivery, however, premature brains were still 2% smaller. The brain’s rapid growth rates near birth suggest that inducing early labor, if not clinically warranted, may have a negative effect on the infant’s neurodevelopment," he continued.

The different areas of the brain were also shown to grow at different post-natal rates. The cerebellum grew the quickest, doubling in size in 3 months. This makes sense bearing in mind that it governs motor control. The hippocampus only grew by 47% over the same period, suggesting that episodic memory is not that important in the early months after birth.

Future plans include studying the effects of alcohol and drugs taken during pregnancy growth rate of the brain.

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