Based on scientific studies, your baby's intelligence may depend on his genes especially mom's genes (yes!). But we know several factors, from the environment to food to education, can substantially affect how our child's brain develops. There is also no rule that says you can't start nurturing your child's brain power from the second you find out you're pregnant.
Over the years, a lot of research has zeroed in on studying baby's development inside the womb. Here are a few of expert-approved and study-backed ways that you may find easy to do.
1. Eat a healthy and stay hydrated You want to make sure you get enough of the nutrients you and your baby need. Calcium, protein, Vitamin B6, B9 and B12, which all help to minimize the risk of congenital disabilities, are some of the nutrients the baby needs to develop properly inside the womb. Iron helps improve blood circulation and improves oxygen flow to your baby's brain. The B vitamins, according to the American Pregnancy Association (ACOG), help minimize the risk of birth defects and develop healthy nerve and blood cells.
Omega-3 fatty acids especially DHA are also essential to baby's brain and neurological development. Research has shown that children with higher levels of DHA at birth scored higher on cognitive tests in school. Foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids are salmon and other fatty fish, soy beans, walnuts, ground flaxseed, and fortified eggs.
2., Take your supplements Talk to you doctor first before taking any supplements while pregnant. It's highly likely though that she'll prescribe folic acid, which is crucial for the development of your baby's brain and spinal cord and help prevent neural tube defects. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that kids' whose mothers who took folic acid before getting pregnant and through the first eight weeks of pregnancy had a 40 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with autism. Aside from supplements, you can also get folic acid from foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, lentils, and leafy green veggies such as spinach.
3. Keep your thyroid in check Thyroid tests during pregnancy are necessary although it has not been made routine yet. Too much or too little thyroid hormone in a mother's blood can be harmful to the fetus, according to Lise Eliot, Ph.D., author of What's Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy has been linked lower intelligence quotient in kids. To ensure you have enough of this essential nutrient, use iodized salt and eat fortified yogurt, milk, fish, and eggs.
4. Soak some sunshine up Just for 20 minutes a day, you can get a healthy dose of the much-needed vitamin D. It is primarily essential for growing healthy and strong bones and heart, but there has been evidence that it may also be important in baby's brain development recently. A Spanish study found that babies whose mom got enough vitamin D during pregnancy scored higher on development tests. Another study showed a link between autism and insufficient Vitamin D during pregnancy. Aside from going outdoors, the sunshine vitamin is also present in oily fish and eggs, or you can take supplements.
5. Stay active and get moving Exercise during pregnancy is safe as long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead. Even if you're not active before getting pregnant, it's the perfect time to start an exercise routine. "Fit moms develop larger placentas with greater capacity to transport oxygen and nutrients in, and waste products out," said Helene Byrne, a pre- and postnatal exercise specialist and founder of Be Fit - Mom. She explained that a larger placenta means improved overall health, including baby's brain.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine suggests the hormones produced during exercise promote growth and development of the baby's brain. Other studies have also shown that it helps improve breathing and stimulate brain activity of the baby in utero. Experts advise preggos to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise three to four times a week.
6. Read and talk to your baby Studies have shown that at 20 weeks, your baby can already hear and respond to music (it does not have to be classical music, mind you) or the sound of your voice. It can help you establish a connection early on, Harold Koplewicz, M.D., president of the Child Mind Institute tells Parents. Research also suggests that babies in the womb can process and learn information from the external world. "Stimulation of neurons in the brain is enhanced by prenatal activities. Playing music, speaking, singing, or reading nursery rhymes are auditory methods of stimulating the unborn child’s brain," Christine Weber, a clinical neuropsychologist in New York, shared with Cafe Mom.
7. Massage your tummy According to a study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, a baby in the womb responds to a mother's touch, a mom softly massaging her belly, more than the sound of her voice. While the study is small, it implies that stimulating an unborn baby's brain can also be done through the sense of touch. So then you can even do both; you can talk, sing, or read to you baby while caressing your tummy!
8. Don't stress! Talking to your baby can also ease your stress, which you should keep to a minimum when you're pregnant. Elizabeth Lombardo, author of the book Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love, says stress during pregnancy affects your baby's womb environment and can negatively affect his brain development. "Don't worry about doing things perfectly. Focus on gratitude and love over perfection."