The first thing you need to do is to up your protein intake. Growing cells need proteins—and that includes brain cells. Take protein rich foods like milk, yoghurt, cheese, beans, pulses and peanuts. Along with these, have fish at least twice a week. Fish is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to enhance the functioning of the brain. If you’re a vegetarian, talk to your doctor about fish oil supplements. Apart from this, it’s very important to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. They are rich in antioxidants, which will protect your baby’s brain from damage. They also provide nutrients that are essential for your baby’s growth. Also increase your intake of iron. Iron delivers lifesustaining oxygen to your baby. Lower levels of iron in your body could lead to inadequate growth of the baby and consequently, an inadequate IQ.
Add a handful of nuts and seeds to your daily breakfast regime. Nuts and seeds contain vitamin B6, which acts like a chemical messenger between your baby’s brain cells.
You will be prescribed prenatal vitamins once you get pregnant. Do remember to take these daily. One of them will be a folic acid supplement which is vital for your baby’s brain development.
Eat wisely and indulge yourself once in a while. But do watch your weight. Putting on exces weight during pregnancy can lead to complications and even premature labour. Pre-term babies have brains that are not fully developed. Remember that when you eat your ghee-laden parathas, cold drinks and chocolate cakes.
Start some prenatal exercises when you enter your second trimester. These will not only keep you active but will also help you to burn extra calories. More importantly, exercise also helps you secrete moderate levels of a hormone called cortisol. Studies show that cortisol is related to optimal brain development in a baby. Babies whose mothers did moderate exercise while pregnant have been shown to have better language skills and intelligence.
It goes without saying that alcohol, smoking and drug use are a strict no-no while you’re pregnant. Any of these can inhibit your baby’s growth and cause serious complications.
If you’re eating right, taking your supplements and exercising daily, there’s little that will stop you from having a healthy, smart baby. You can go the extra mile and provide stimulation to your baby in utero. Research has shown that babies do respond to stimulation while in the womb and it does influence their IQ, memory and language skills later in life.
“From the womb to when a child is three, the left side of the brain that controls creativity is most active. This is the time when you can influence your baby’s brain by exercises that stimulate the left side of the brain. Tapping on the baby bump, putting your hand over it, image exercises where you see an image that you want manifested in your baby, reading out loud to your unborn baby, listening to music—all these stimulate the left side of the brain,” says Desai.
Try reading to your bump. Your unborn baby will find comfort in the sound of your voice and will learn to recognize the sound of vowels. No, you don’t have to read Shakespeare to your baby. Read any stories for children that you’ll be reading to the baby later, after birth, too. Music soothes a baby while in the womb. When your baby will hear the same tunes after birth, her memory will be triggered and it will react in the same way to the music now. Babies do, for a short time, remember the stimuli received while in the womb.
Even physical stimuli—you touching your bump often—can have a positive impact on your baby. It’s a great way to bond and helps the baby feel secure. “A father should also connect with the baby in this way. This ensures a deep bond later when the baby is born,” says Desai. A safe, soothing and secure environment is necessary for optimal growth in a baby. That is exactly why you should stay away from stressful situations while pregnant. Any kind of anxiety in you will be transferred to the baby. So keep yourself calm and avoid situations that can act as negative stimuli for the baby.
“You can literally have a ‘designer’ baby. Keep an image of what you want the baby to look like close by and look at it often. Visualize the values you want your baby to have and speak to your unborn baby about them. I have done this with my own three children and have never been disappointed with the results,” says Desai.
Ensuring that your baby’s brain develops optimally is not such a difficult task. If you keep yourself healthy and happy during your pregnancy, there’s little that can go wrong. Mess with your health with drugs or alcohol and you have chances of having a pre-term baby or a baby with severe complications. Take care of yourself and you’ll be taking care of baby. MB