The best time to ensure your baby has a healthy, developing brain is during pregnancy. We all know that the importance of brain development in children is crucial.
Naturally, you want the best for your baby. So you may have researched baby gear, subscribed to every bump blog, and sought advice from friends and family.
But not many people know that you don’t have to wait until your baby is born to help them develop their mind or support their growth.
Science tells us that there are certain things you can do to help enhance your baby’s brain development in the womb.
Although the thought of supporting your baby’s prenatal brain growth might have you imagining yourself with headphones stretched around your bump playing Mozart or Beethoven, as it turns out, classical music doesn’t do much in the way of improving your baby’s IQ.
But here are six simple, research-supported ways to help boost your baby’s brain development in utero.
There are many ways to develop their brain while they’re still in mommy’s belly, and we want to share some tips with you!
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Tips To Improve Your Baby’s Brain Development During Pregnancy
Throughout your pregnancy, you will hear countless words of advice and “supported medical facts” from your friends and family. It’s tiresome. Does anyone know what they’re saying? Why are your two best friends contradicting each other? Who’s right? Is anyone right?!
With all of the words of advice pouring out around you, it’s nice to stumble upon trustworthy information.
This is especially true when talking about something as serious as your baby’s development and how to boost and support it.
Start a storytime habit
When does learning begin? The foundations for language start in the womb and, by the third trimester, your baby can memorise sounds they hear regularly.
Listening to classical music during pregnancy might not make much difference, but talking to your baby can.
Language learning begins in utero, and studies have shown that parents who talk and read to their baby throughout pregnancy promote early word recognition after they’re born.
Get some ideas for a baby-friendly story time or even read your book club book out loud, to get the sound of your voice going.
According to an article, researchers asked mothers to read a passage from The Cat In The Hat (a children’s book written and illustrated by Theodor Geisel under the pen name Dr Seuss and first published in 1957) repeatedly to their unborn babies. After birth, the babies recognised that passage when they heard it.
Play music and get talking
As the baby grows in their mother’s womb, they begin to hear and even respond to sound.
They may not understand what you are saying but stimulating your baby by talking or even singing can help with their brain development, says Sengupta.
You can even ask your partner to speak to your belly and feel the baby respond in return.
From time to time, listen to soothing music or even nursery rhymes.
Perhaps the most important education of all – you can shape your baby’s music taste.
Unborn babies love music – it helps trigger happy chemicals, like serotonin, which encourage them to be calm and even increase concentration power.
After the birth, your baby remembers and relives all those good feelings associated with the music each time they hear it.
That means: After your baby’s born, sing the same rhymes to quieten and soothe them.
If you want to make an impact on your baby’s development, talk to them every day.
While this may feel a bit strange at first, you’ll be having full-blown conversations in no time.
Talking to your baby while they’re in the womb helps their brain development in the fetus and allows them to get insider’s access to their mom’s voice.
All of these conversations won’t go unnoticed. When you talk to your baby in the womb, you create a strong foundation for social and emotional development, as well as a boost in language skills and memory down the road.
We’ve all heard the rumours that playing Mozart to babies during pregnancy turns them into the next Einstein, but is it true?
While it might not boost IQ levels, it will help your baby learn new sounds, tones and produce a calming effect.
Nourish Your Body
As a rule of thumb, the better your health is throughout your pregnancy, the better your baby’s will be.
Make sure to practice good, healthy habits by eating well, gaining healthy weight, and taking supplemental vitamins.
Pop Your Prenatal Vitamin Daily
Taking a prenatal vitamin will help ensure that you get the balance of nutrients your baby needs, like folic acid and vitamin B12 to make red blood cells, vitamin C to produce collagen, vitamin D for bone building, and zinc for brain development.
If your vitamin upsets your stomach, don’t just ditch it: Try taking it with a meal, or talk to your doctor about switching brands.
Fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, may boost your baby’s brainpower.
In a study from Harvard Medical School, the more fish women ate during the second trimester, and the higher their babies scored on a mental-development test at six months of age.
Omega-3s are found in brain-cell membranes, so there are plenty of ways they can influence brain function. If you don’t like fish, talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement.
Be Mindful of Mercury
Fish is suitable for your baby’s brain, but you do need to take a few precautions. For example, mercury contamination in some fish may be harmful.
The Food and Drug Administration advises all pregnant women to avoid shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish completely since they contain the highest levels.
Some lower-mercury options: salmon, catfish, pollack, whitefish, tilapia, and shrimp.
Even with these varieties, you should limit all fish to 12 ounces (about two meals) per week. And opt for canned light tuna over canned white albacore, which has more mercury.
Munch on Fruits and Veggies
Produce contains antioxidants, which are suitable for your baby. “Antioxidants protect the baby’s brain tissue from damage.
Choose deep-coloured produce – like dark leafy greens, papaya, blueberries, and tomatoes – for the most significant antioxidant punch.
Remember to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly, even fruits with a rind (since cutting it will drag germs through the flesh).
Though fetal alcohol syndrome is associated with heavy alcohol abuse during pregnancy, even moderate amounts of beer, wine, or liquor can harm a baby’s brain.
Light to moderate drinking can lead to problems with learning, attention, memory, and social skills down the road.
Your body needs more protein right now to build cells and make hormones for your growing baby.
Your protein intake must jump by ten extra grams per day. Some good protein boosters:
- A yogurt smoothie at breakfast.
- A cup of bean soup at lunch.
- Peanut butter on whole-grain crackers for a snack.
- A 3-ounce portion of lean beef (tenderloin and sirloin are good choices) at dinner.
Pump Up Iron
Your iron intake needs to double during pregnancy since iron helps deliver life-sustaining oxygen to your baby.
The trouble is, many women enter pregnancy already deficient, says Somer. If your baby’s deprived of oxygen in the womb, the risk of poor growth – and lower IQ – increases.
Ask your doctor to test you for iron deficiency. Then make sure your diet includes iron-rich foods like lean beef, chicken, legumes, and fortified breakfast cereal.
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Don’t Gain Too Much Weight.
You’re eating for two now, but packing on too many pounds during pregnancy ups your chances of a premature delivery – and babies born early may be at a disadvantage when it comes to learning.
Premature delivery is one of the most significant risk factors for mental impairment. In addition, there’s a strong link between birth weight, IQ score, and school achievement.
What’s the connection? Early babies miss out on the unique nourishment that the placenta provides, are exposed to stimuli they’re typically protected from in the womb and are more vulnerable to infection.
To keep your weight healthy, follow these guidelines:
- If you’re currently an average weight, gain 25-35 pounds.
- If you’re currently overweight, gain 15-25 pounds.
- If you’re presently underweight, gain 28-40 pounds.
This is an important aspect to talk about since it’s not uncommon in our daily lives to take medication.
However, certain medications have been linked to ADHD, congenital disabilities, autism, anxiety, and other developmental issues.
Talk to your doctor before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medication.
Water is essential to all living things, including your developing baby. Thus, it’s no surprise that pregnant women need to stay hydrated to boost fetal brain development. Everybody is different, so instead of counting ounces, focus on getting enough water, so your urine is the colour of watered-down lemonade coloured.
Exercise is good for your body, both physically and mentally. The endorphins released when you exercise your mood and overall sense of wellbeing while reducing brain shrinkage and enhancing cognitive function.
When you exercise, these benefits pass down to your baby. Only about 30 minutes of moderate exercise 3-5 times a week is all you need for both of you to reap the benefits.
Everyone Starts Somewhere
If you’ve never exercised before, don’t worry. Everyone starts somewhere.
Focus on moderate exercises that don’t have a high risk of injury – a.k.a. avoid high contact sports (obviously) and don’t jump into something you’re not ready for.
Start with these pregnancy-approved exercises, or at the very least, get outside and go for a brisk walk!
Find a Workout Buddy
Everything is more accessible when you have a partner, and exercising is no different. So find a workout buddy and make a schedule.
You’ll be less likely to bail on your daily exercises if it also means letting down a friend.
If you’re not one for creativity, or need that extra push of motivation, check out classes offered in your town.
Not only will you find an excellent pregnancy class, but you’ll also make some new friends along the way.
Don’t Forget to Rest.
When exercising your body, rest is crucial. Don’t push yourself too hard, and remember to take a few rest days here and there, especially if you’ve been going above and beyond during your workouts.
Pamper yourself and enjoy a candle-lit bubble bath after a long week of classes or pregnancy strength training.
Manage Stress Levels
Chronic stress is no good in life, but did you know that it harms your baby’s nervous system?
Numerous studies have been done that suggest stress during pregnancy may increase the risk of congenital brain malfunctions in babies.
Relax and try to avoid any significant life changes during your pregnancy. To help promote a sense of calmness, try these tremendous stress-reducing activities.
Toxins aren’t suitable for anyone, much less for a fragile developing baby. While your placenta will help filter out toxins, there’s only so much it can do.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to avoid levels of toxins that will negatively impact your baby’s brain development.
- Avoid prolonged proximity to cleaning supplies
- Make sure your home is painted with lead-free paint
- Limit exposure to traffic-related air pollutants
- Foster an overall healthy environment in your home
While you should go the extra mile to protect your baby from outside toxins, please don’t get paranoid or stress too much about things you can’t change. Remember, stress is no good so do your best.
Never Smoke Or Drink
This one should be a given. Never, ever smoke or drink while pregnant.
Nicotine constricts blood vessels and reduces the blood pressure flow and nutrition to your baby, and interferes with the development of crucial cognitive brain cells.
Alcohol not only causes fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) but also leads to an overall poor brain fetal brain development.
Drinking during pregnancy leads to lower IQs, attention spans, poor cognitive skills and memory, attention deficits, impulsive behaviour, and even motor function disabilities.
Smoking and drinking during pregnancy just aren’t worth it. If you need help quitting before pregnancy, reach out to a doctor, specialist, or someone you trust today.
Keep thyroid levels in check.
The thyroid is essential for the body. During pregnancy, if your thyroid level is unstable, it can affect the baby: Deficiency of thyroid in the mother can affect the baby’s intelligence quotient.
Try to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet, which contains an ample amount of sodium. Include iodised salt and yogurt in your diet in case you feel you do not get the required amount of iodine in your diet.
Gently Massage Your Tummy
According to a magazine article, rubbing your belly gently is also good stimulation for the baby.
A baby, still in the womb, can feel your touch. From around 20 weeks, your baby will feel you touching your bump and stroking it can send calming messages to their nervous system.
Research suggests an unborn baby can even distinguish between their mother and father’s touch. So pass some almond oil: this is the best excuse for a massage ever.
What’s more? Your unborn baby even has a sense of smell. So try and smell fresh flowers, fruits, and other soothing fragrances whenever you can, as these exercises will also help with the baby’s brain stimulation.
Take a Hike
Well, it doesn’t have to be a hike. A 30-minute walk will do the trick! Exercising and staying active while pregnant is essential for your body’s health, but studies show that it can also improve your baby’s brain function.
Regular aerobic exercise during pregnancy is beneficial both for the mother and for the infant. Studies demonstrated that aerobic exercise during pregnancy improves the brain functions of the offspring.
Remember, always check with your doctor before incorporating a new exercise routine, especially during pregnancy.
Get a little sunshine.
Never before has vitamin D been so important. All you need to do is soak some sunshine up for 20 minutes a day.
We test the pregnant mums who come to our clinic for vitamin D, and more than half of them are deficient.
That’s due to a combination of a lack of sunlight and not getting enough vitamin D in their diet.
Most of the vitamin D we rely on to grow healthy and robust bones comes from the sun, though it can also be found in a few foods like oily fish and eggs.
This nutrient is essential for helping your baby develop strong bones and heart. Researchers have also started investigating a link between a lack of vitamin D in pregnant women and autism.
We hope these tips help you better understand how to boost your baby’s brain development during pregnancy.
As a general rule of thumb, the most important thing is to live a healthy lifestyle. If you’re worried about your health or stress levels, talk to your primary care doctor to see what you can do today.
It’s also a great idea to get your partner up to speed with this information so they’ll understand how to be supportive throughout your pregnancy.
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