Most mothers know that good nutrition is especially important during pregnancy. What women eat during pregnancy affects the physical and mental development of their child for years to come. Adding certain brain-boosting foods to a balanced diet during pregnancy – and even pre-pregnancy – can boost a baby’s IQ, behavioral skills and memory well into adulthood.
Oily fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, are a crucial brain food for your developing baby. In a 2007 study of almost 12,000 pregnant women, children born to mothers who ate less than two servings of fish per week scored lower on tests of intelligence, behavior and development than children born to mothers who ate at least two serving of fish per week. Pregnant women should avoid large predatory fish like swordfish, which can contain high levels of mercury. Fish oil capsules are a good substitute for women who don’t like fresh fish.
Eggs are a good source of choline, which might promote brain function and the development of memory in developing babies. Two eggs provide half the recommended daily amount of choline for pregnant women, and also come with added benefits: Eggs are a complete source of protein and contain an easily absorbed form of iron. Both protein and iron are thought to increase birth weight. Low birth weights are associated with lower IQ.
Fruits and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that protect a baby’s brain from damage. Look for dark-colored produce, like blueberries, tomatoes and kale, for the highest antioxidant levels. Always wash produce thoroughly to remove germs before eating. If pregnancy-related nausea or food aversions make fresh produce unpalatable, 100 percent vegetable juices, fruit smoothies and soups all count toward the recommended five servings per day.
Eat Enough, But Not Too Much
Perhaps the most important factor to consider when choosing brain foods for baby is not what you eat, but how much you eat. Under-eating during pregnancy can cause marked differences in how fetal brain cells multiply and connect with each other, damaging the parts of the brain that regulate behavior and problem-solving. On the other hand, excessive weight gain during pregnancy can cause preterm birth, which can lead to significant learning and behavioral problems in children. The ideal daily caloric intake for pregnant women is 300 calories more than pre-pregnancy caloric needs.