Brain food for your unborn bub

Melanie Mahoney
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Image: Getty
Brought to you by Mother and Baby.

You really are what you eat – or, for babies, you are what your mum ate in pregnancy. Here are the foods that will boost your growing baby’s brain power.

Can you eat your way to a smarter baby? New research suggests that yes, perhaps you can. Some super-nutrients, like folate, choline, essential fatty acids and iron, have been shown to affect brain development in babies from gestation right through to early infancy.

Dietitian Kate Di Prima says that since 70% of brain development occurs while your baby is in the womb, what you eat in pregnancy is really important.

“In general, aim for five servings of fruit and vegies and three serves of calcium-rich dairy foods,” she advises. “Add some lean meat, fish, chicken or legumes. Eat regularly and drink plenty of water.”

So what’s the chow down on super foods for super brains?

Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin found mostly in leafy green vegetables. Taking folate supplements for three months before conception and through the first trimester will drastically reduce the risk of neural tube defects, or problems with the early development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord.

Another B vitamin, this nutrient has been connected with the memory centre of the brain. It’s present as a natural compound in a number of foods, particularly eggs, milk and lean meat, as well as in human breast milk. Choline supplements are also available as capsules, granules and tablets.

Essential fatty acids
We all know that eating fish is good for us, but while you’re pregnant, it’s more important than ever to try to eat enough. Essential fatty acids, such as DHA and AA, are vital for brain and eye development in babies, especially during the last three months of pregnancy and the first 18 months of life.

The best dietary sources of DHA include fatty fish like tuna and salmon, fish oil and liver. DHA and AA are abundant in breastmilk, and one recent study even showed that mothers with high levels of DHA had babies with more regular sleep patterns. So be sure to eat plenty of DHA-rich foods while breastfeeding.

There’s a link between low iron and poor brain function in babies, so it’s essential to have enough during pregnancy. Iron-rich foods include meat and fish, as well as wholegrain cereals and dark leafy vegetables.

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