Pregnancy, especially first-time mothers, can be a daunting time as there is so much conflicting information about what to eat, what to drink, and what supplements to take when it comes to making healthy babies. There are obvious standards such as a pre-natal vitamin with extra folic acid, quitting smoking and drinking, eliminating most seafood, and stopping most herbal supplements and teas unless otherwise confirmed safe for pregnancy. However, there are three pregnancy-safe nutrients that may provide additional support to brain development and subsequently smart(er) children. Remember, before rushing out to buy anything, consult with your health care provider.
1. Choline – this water-soluble B-vitamin is critical for brain development and cell membranes. Recent research in the June 2013 American Journal of Epidemiology found that those pregnant women who consistently ate at 325 mg or more of choline had children with better visual memory skills than those who were not. Choline is generally considered safe unless taken in extreme dose (10 grams or more) and should not be taken if someone is also on the medication methotrexate. For those looking to eat their way to healthy levels, food sources include beef liver, wheat germ, eggs, beef, cod, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
2. DHA – otherwise known as docosahexaenoic acid is part of the omega-3 mix with EPA. DHA specifically has been associated with better brain development as it helps the rapidly growing neuronal cells particularly in the last trimester of pregnancy. As a result, formula and baby food makers have begun adding DHA into their ingredients to ensure infants and growing children get enough of this healthy nutrient. When looking to supplement, the DHA content should be at least 300mg and come from a reputable source where the oil is screened for toxins, heavy metals and chemicals. Be very careful while pregnant when eating the popular omega-3 source – fish such as salmon, sardines and anchovies.
3. Iron – becoming iron anemic (or low on iron) while pregnant is a common encounter as iron is critical for DNA synthesis and cognitive development. Most pre-natal vitamins add extra iron as pregnant women should be taking about 30mg per day during these 9 months however if her blood levels drop she may need more. In food, iron is best found in beef, dark chicken, oysters, black strap molasses, lentils and fortified foods such as cereals. Some forms of iron cause constipation and intestinal upset which may already be a problem during pregnancy and iron should not be taken within 4 hours of thyroid medication.
As developmental delays and attention deficit disorder continues to climb, talking with your health care provider about additional baby brain development to help make for smarter children.
1. Boeke, M., Gillman, M., Hughes, M., Rifas-Shiman, S., Villamor, E., and Oken, E. Choline Intake During Pregnancy and Child Cognition at 7 Years. Am J Epidemiol. 2013;177(12):1338-1347.
2. Higdon J. (updated by Drake, V. and Zeisel, S.) Choline. Web. 1 July, 2013.
3. Boyles, S. Pregnant? Omega-3’s Essential for Baby’s Brain. Web. 1 July, 2013.
4. Klemens, C., Salari, K.,and Mozurkewich, E. Assessing Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy and Lactation to Optimize Maternal Mental Health and Childhood Cognitive Development. Clin Lipidology. 2012;7(1):93-109.
5. Higdon J. (updated by Drake, V. and Wessling-Resnick, M.) Iron. Web. 1 July, 2013.