You may think that your baby’s development is all down to genes but think again…what you do or don’t do during pregnancy can be just as important
When it comes to your baby’s development, the right kind of exercise is a major help. Studies in America have found that women who start a moderate exercise programme while pregnant are more likely to have larger babies than those who don’t. Meanwhile, researchers in Germany have found that jogging can boost the development of a baby’s brain cells in the areas linked to learning and memory. Exercise also boosts your baby’s development by making your heart pump blood and oxygen across the placenta more effectively. ‘A placenta that has a healthy vascular supply is much more effective at exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide, essential for development and growth,’ explains Alison Merry of Blooming Fit (www.bloomingfit.com).
Helping your body to absorb iron will also help your baby grow. Eating five portions of fresh fruit or vegetables a day will boost your vitamin C intake – which in turn will help you absorb iron and other nutrients from your food. Too much caffeine can reduce your body’s ability to absorb iron, so restrict yourself to three cups of coffee, six cups of tea or eight cans of regular cola a day
What you eat can have a major impact on how your baby develops, as everything you take in is passed to him through your placenta. ‘Eating healthily helps your baby to develop healthily too,’ explains Mervi Jokinen of the Royal College of Midwives.
In general, this means a healthy, balanced diet. But there are some superfoods that can help you produce a super baby – and some foods to cut out or restrict. The single most important thing you can do is to cut down on alcohol. Heavy drinking can lead to low birth weight and even birth defects and learning difficulties. The latest governmental advice is to cut out booze altogether.
Folic acid has long been known to help prevent birth defects, such as spina bifida. You should take a supplement while trying to conceive and during the crucial first trimester. You can also boost your folic acid intake by eating lots of leafy green vegetables (such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach and kale), pulses (chickpeas, black-eyed beans and lentils), wholemeal bread and fortified breakfast cereals.
What you eat may even have an impact on whether your baby goes on to develop allergies in the future. Research by the University of Aberdeen has found that women who eat four apples or more a week in pregnancy are half as likely to have a child who is asthmatic as those who don’t. There is debate as to whether eating peanuts in pregnancy can trigger a peanut allergy in your baby. Official advice is that you should avoid them if there is a family history of asthma, eczema, hay fever or other allergies.
If you want a brainy baby, fish may be the answer. Children whose mums ate a lot of fish while pregnant have been shown to have greater intelligence, communication skills and hand-eye coordination at the age of seven. The most beneficial is oily fish, like mackerel, salmon, pilchards and sardines, but keep to recommended limits
Fish oil supplements have been shown to have similar benefits. What you do in your relaxation time may also help your unborn baby develop. The so-called ‘Mozart effect’ – linking babies’ intelligence to hearing classical music in the womb – is controversial. But many studies have concluded that playing music to an unborn baby can help build connections in the brain, with reported improvements in language skills and coordination.
Taking time to chill out with your favourite CD while pregnant may also help your baby as you unwind. Growing research suggests that high levels of stress during pregnancy can adversely affect a baby’s brain development. But the evidence isn’t clear-cut by any means. A study in America has shown that children whose mothers endured moderate stress during pregnancy were more, not less, advanced at the age of two. Significantly, this study also found that children whose mums had reported negative feelings about being pregnant appeared to show poorer behavioural and emotional skills.
So, if you’re battling against work deadlines, be reassured that this probably isn’t causing your baby any harm – and may even be doing him good. But do take time out to keep your stress levels in check and to give you time to bond with your bump. One of the most significant factors in how your baby develops in the future will be his relationship with you.
‘Genetics accounts for around 40 per cent of a baby’s development in the womb, but 60 per cent is accounted for by external factors, so it’s very important what mums do,’ explains Professor Jim Dornan of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. ‘This is particularly true of the crucial early months when all the development is going on. Fortunately, women today can find out they’re pregnant before there’s even a heartbeat, so they have a great opportunity to make sure they are fit and healthy to give their babies the best possible start.’
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