The first 1000 days of life, spanning from conception until the age of two, helps build a strong foundation for a child’s growth and development. As such, it is integral for expectant moms to put in full effort in creating a strong start for their babies during this crucial period.
The good news is that the simple choices moms-to-be make every day can have a big impact on their child. From avoiding stress to exercising regularly, pregnant women can help gear their babies up for success later in life.
Here are three simple and easy steps I listed for pregnant women on how they can boost their babies' brain growth and development.
1. Avoid stress
The stress hormones in a mother's body can negatively affect her baby. So when she experiences severe stress, the baby inside her womb may get exposed to unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which hinders baby's brain development.
In fact, a newly-developed scanning technique allowed a team of researchers from Wayne State University to examine the neural activity of 47 fetuses, between 30 and 37 weeks of gestation. They recruited the participating mothers from a low-resource and high-stress urban setting. Most of them are exposed to high levels of depression, anxiety, worry, and stress. This study revealed that highly-stressed mothers had fetuses with reduced efficiency in how their neural functional systems are organized. It further confirmed a long-held theory claiming that stress is not good for the baby’s brain development while in the womb.
2. Stay active
Contrary to popular belief, exercising during pregnancy is generally safe. In fact, pregnant women who were physically active before they got pregnant can remain active during gestation as long as it is comfortable and there are no other health conditions. In addition to helping expectant moms build their stamina during pregnancy, exercising is also said to support the baby’s brain development.
The University de Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital, conducted a randomized, controlled study on the effects of maternal exercise on a child's brain development. The team of researchers randomly assigned pregnant women (during the start of their second trimester) either to an exercise group or to a sedentary group. Women in the exercise group performed at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times per week at a moderate intensity while those in the sedentary group did not exercise.
At eight to 12 days after birth, the babies of the women who participated in the study went through an electroencephalogram (EEG) test, which records electrical activity in the brain using small, metal discs (electrodes) attached to the scalp. The EEG test revealed that babies born to mothers who were physically active had a more mature cerebral activation, suggesting that their brains developed more quickly.
3. Focus on the essential nutrients
It is essential for pregnant women to get the right balance of nutrients to provide for their babies’ growth and brain development. For instance, women are encouraged to take at least 400 micrograms (mcg), or 0.4 milligrams (mg) of folic acid before conception and during pregnancy. This man-made form of a B vitamin is essential in the production of red blood cells. It also helps prevent neural tube defects (NTD), like spina bifida, by which the brain and/or spinal cord do not fully develop. To meet the dietary requirement for folic acid or folate, Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) explained that all women of child-bearing age can take supplements with folic acid in addition to eating foods high in folate.
Another essential nutrient that women should have during pregnancy is DHA, which is not synthesized by the body and can only be obtained through diet or supplementation. This omega-3 fatty acid is important for a developing fetus’s eyes, nervous system, and overall cognitive development. Often called as a brain food, DHA also helps with the development of myelin sheath, a coating surrounding the brain’s many axons, which allows the nerve cells to communicate more quickly.
Pregnancy is an important time for a woman to take utmost care of her physical and mental health. This includes following a healthy lifestyle and making good choices. By doing this, pregnant women are likely to maintain a healthy pregnancy and help their babies get the best start in life so they can have a brighter tomorrow.
By: Christia S. Padolina, M.D.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.