What you eat during pregnancy is very important, as the mother’s diet affects the fetal organ formation. It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that you eat well for your growing baby’s needs.
The nervous system, which includes the brain, is one of the first systems that starts developing rapidly after your baby is conceived.There are a few things that you can do to support your baby’s brain development during – and even before – pregnancy.
1. Eat right
A healthy diet, including a variety of vegetables and fruits, protein-rich foods which include milk, beans, whole grains and nuts, combined with appropriate prenatal supplements will ensure your baby gets a balanced nutrient intake crucial for his or her overall development, including his/her brain. A rapidly developing fetal baby’s brain needs many nutrients for proper growth and development, for example folate and DHA. So if you are planning to get pregnant or already have a baby on the way, you can start including foods rich in folates and DHA. Avocado, broccoli, oranges and leafy greens are great additions to a pregnant woman’s diet. In addition, include in diet fish like salmon and sardine to get your DHA supply. Don’t forget to take doctor’s recommended prenatal supplements that should include iron and folic acid.
DHA is one of the important nutrients that your baby’s brain needs during pregnancy. This omega -3 fatty acid is a component of baby’s developing brain. It helps in the structural and functional development of the brain, the control centre of your baby’s skills.
Also read about the supplements your doctor may prescribe for the baby’s proper development.
2. Avoid harmful substances
Toxins, or harmful chemicals, are found everywhere, including our food and the environment. These may be harmful to the developing fetus’ and must be avoided. Common household chemicals that may contain phthalates, lead, and mercury can negatively impact a growing brain if exposure is extensive.
Avoid alcoholic beverages as they could damage your baby’s brain. Also, avoid undercooked or uncooked meat, fish and egg, soft cheeses that can contain bacteria or parasites that could harm your baby.ii Choose fish that are known to be low in mercury.iii
If you need to take any form of medicine, always confirm with your health care provider if it’s safe. Even over-the-counter medicines may not be safe for your to take during pregnancy.
3. Exercise in moderation
Exercise has multiple effects on the body – whether pregnant or otherwise. During pregnancy, exercise can help you stay in shape. It can also help prepare you for labor and delivery. It can help reduce backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling, boost your mood and energy levels, help you sleep better and prevent excess weight gain; It might also reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.iv Make sure you seek your healthcare provider’s advice before embarking on any form of exercise.
You don’t have to lift weights or exert yourself very much. Just avoid being sedentary and try to take walks whenever you can.
4. Stimulate the baby’s senses
According to research, babies can hear and learn to recognize sounds and words while in the womb.”v There’s no harm in engaging your baby and it will even aid in fetal brain development.
Similarly, playing music will have a soothing or a stimulating effect, depending on the genre, and babies continue to respond to it even after birth! Researchvi has found that exposure to music while in the womb has beneficial effect on baby’s behavioral development. So talk to, play music for, as well as sing to the baby as often as you can.
Engaging with your baby while he or she is still in your womb will serve as a bonding mechanism even before making his or her appearance. It will also reduce your stress - something that you need to do anyway, as too much stress could affect your developing babyvii. Remember that his or her emotional development starts even before his or her birth, so maintain a happy disposition!
i Fetal development: The 1st trimester. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-de...
ii Why should I avoid some foods during pregnancy? Retrieved 2 June 2017 from, http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/917.aspx?CategoryID=54
iii Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know. Retrieved 2 June 2017 from, https://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/metals/ucm393070.htm
iv Pregnancy and exercise: Baby, let's move! (2016, June 09). Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-de...
v Babies Learn to Recognize Words in the Womb. Retrieved 2 June 2017 from, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2013/08/babies-learn-recognize-words-womb
vi Arya, R., Chansoria, M., Konanki, R., & Tiwari, D. K. (2012). Maternal Music Exposure during Pregnancy Influences Neonatal Behaviour: An Open-Label Randomized Controlled Trial. International Journal of Pediatrics, 901812.