Your baby grows and changes each day throughout your pregnancy. Brain development is one of the most important ways your baby grows, and you can encourage a healthy brain by eating certain foods. Jonny Bowden and Allison Tannis, in their book, "The 100 Healthiest Foods to Eat During Pregnancy," report that a well-balanced diet is essential during pregnancy, but some foods are more beneficial for the development of your baby's brain.
Fatty fish is one of the best food sources of DHA, a substance your baby's brain needs to develop normally. Your body does not manufacture DHA, so you must get it from your food, and Bowden and Tannis recommend fatty fish, such as salmon or lake trout, to help you get enough. Your baby needs DHA to encourage proper formation of brain cells and brain tissue. DHA offers the added bonuses of encouraging longer sleep patterns for your baby following delivery and helps prevent postpartum depression for you as well. Check with your doctor to see how much fish is safe for you to eat.
Meat and Poultry
Zinc is abundant in animal foods, such as lean beef and pork as well as chicken and turkey. This important nutrient can also be found in seafood, such as fish, shrimp, crab and lobster. Roberta Larson Duyff and American Dietetic Association note in their book, "American Dietetic Association Food and Nutrition Guide," that your zinc needs increase while pregnant because your baby's brain development relies on adequate amounts for formation of cells and tissue. Eat one or two servings of lean meat each day to help you get plenty for you and for your baby.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
One of the most critical nutrients you need before conception and during pregnancy is folic acid. Folic acid is particularly important during the first few weeks of pregnancy, when your baby's nerves and brain are beginning to form and develop. Folic acid also helps close your baby's neural tube so that birth defects like spina bifida do not occur, note Judith Sharlin and Sari Edelstein in their book "Essentials of Life Cycle Nutrition." Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, collard greens, kale and romaine lettuce, will help you consume enough folic acid to benefit the development of your baby's brain.
Iodine is another critical nutrient because it contributes to healthy brain and mental growth. Sharlin and Edelstein note that a severe iodine deficiency can lead to mental retardation. Milk contains a good amount of iodine because of the feed given to milk cows. Adding milk to your pregnancy diet will ensure that your baby's bones develop properly, and it will also contribute to the health and formation of his brain. Three cups of milk each day will help you consume plenty of what you need. Low-fat and skim milk are healthier choices during pregnancy because they are lower in saturated fat but still supply enough iodine.
- "The 100 Healthiest Foods to Eat During Pregnancy"; Jonny Bowden and Allison Tannis; 2010
- "American Dietetic Association Food and Nutrition Guide"; Roberta Larson Duyff and American Dietetic Association; 2006
- "Essentials of Life Cycle Nutrition"; Judith Sharlin and Sari Edelstein; 2010