Boosting brainpower — before birth
By Jeanne Laktash
Our brains do some pretty amazing things. What other organ can recall that there are 48 teaspoons in a cup — as well as that embarrassing shirt we wore in 1995? Other creatures have brains, but none are quite as impressive as the human brain. And it starts developing before most people even know we exist.
“Around week 5, your baby’s neural tube (forming their spinal cord and brain) is in place,” says Keith Williams, MD, an OB-GYN at Geisinger. “And their brain development will continue throughout every stage of your pregnancy.”
If you’re pregnant, add some mental “fertilizer” to the one growing inside your baby’s tiny skull with a few healthy habits:
Take your prenatal vitamins. Prenatal vitamins are specifically formulated for pregnancy. These dietary dynamos contain folic acid and iron to keep you and your baby healthy.
Folic acid — which you can also get from beans, citrus and leafy greens — helps prevent abnormalities in your baby’s brain and spinal cord. And iron supports their growth and development. Eating high-iron foods like spinach, tofu and raisins will help, too.
Be of sound mind. At around 24 weeks, your baby will start responding to sounds. Whether it’s reading TV listings out loud or describing the delicious pasta you’re eating, introduce your child to the sound of your voice. This has the bonus effect of strengthening your new bond with your baby.
Ordinary household sounds like the vacuum, washer, lawnmower or pets are fair game, too. And get your partner or other children (if you have them) in on the fun! All of these help the newest family member start learning the sounds they’ll hear once they make their debut.
Turn up the tunes. You may have heard that classical music benefits a baby’s brain. Recent studies haven’t shown concrete evidence that that’s the case. However, an unborn baby does respond to musical rhythms — and if you find classical music soothing, turn up the Tchaikovsky. Because when you’re less stressed, your baby can relax too. “Listening to music can be relaxing and is good for you and baby,” Dr. Williams says.
Not down with Debussy? Change the channel. Whether it’s Top 40, classic rock or Mongolian throat singing, keeping the tunes flowing. You may even find that your baby seems to prefer certain songs or genres. Knowing their favorite melodies now could prove valuable when they’re cranky later on.
Ask questions. This one isn’t so much for your baby’s brain as your own. As your pregnancy continues, keep the lines of communication open. Ask every question you have. Your medical team has likely heard most of them, so set your own mind at ease.
And in the years to come, remind your little genius of the extra help you gave them in utero. They might just remember to thank you.
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