Recent research shows that what you do during pregnancy may not only help to protect your baby, but can also boost her health and improve her brain power in the future. So pop these easy ideas on your to-do list.
TAKE A WALK
Regular gentle exercise could make your baby more intelligent. An American study found that mums-to-be who exercised for at least half an hour, three times a week, had children who scored higher in intelligence, coordination and oral tests at the age of 5.Try brisk walking, swimming or pregnancy-specific exercise classes such as aquanatal or yoga. Remember, it’s important to take exercise gently. Take the ‘talk test’ – if you’re too puffed to chat, slow down. Stop if you feel unwell.
Reducing stress levels will benefit both you and your baby. Listening to classical music has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression in mums-to-be. It’s also a good idea to establish a regular ‘date night’ with your partner – nights out will be few and far between once the baby arrives, so take advantage now. If you’re too tired or feeling too unwell for a night out, an evening snuggled up on the sofa with a good DVD can help you reconnect with each other.
* If you feel your relationship is really suffering, contact the counselling service Relate. To find your nearest Relate, call 0300 100 1234 or visit relate.org.uk.
It’s true! A 2004 Finnish study found that mums who ate chocolate during pregnancy had happier, more active babies. Scientists suggest that the mood-boosting chemicals in chocolate could pass to the unborn baby. ‘There’s nothing wrong with eating chocolate during pregnancy, as long as you eat it in moderation,’ says Virginia Howes, independent midwife at Kent Midwifery Practice. ‘Don’t put on any more weight than you need to – maintaining a healthy weight will be beneficial for you and your baby.’ Also, remember that chocolate contains caffeine – around 50mg in a plain 50g bar. The latest guidelines say mums-to-be should have no more than 200mg of caffeine a day – bear this in mind if you’re already using up your caffeine quota on coffee (100mg per mug of instant, 140mg per mug of filter), tea (50mg per mug) or cola (40mg per can).
POP THE RIGHT PILLS
Taking a daily 400mcg folic acid supplement until the end of the 12th week of pregnancy helps protect your baby from neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. It’s a good idea to take a 10mcg vitamin D supplement every day throughout pregnancy, too. We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight, but if you haven’t seen much sun during the past few months, a supplement may help. Vitamin D is particularly important during pregnancy, as it helps your baby develop strong, healthy bones
Drinking milk during pregnancy and while breastfeeding could protect your baby against eczema, asthma and other allergies, a Dutch study has found. The research from 2007, reveals that organic milk protects your baby while in the womb. What’s more, mums who drink organic milk produce breastmilk that provides some protection against allergens. This may be due to the higher concentration of certain acids found in organic milk. ‘Dairy products are excellent during pregnancy,’ says midwife Virginia. ‘There’s no need to go for low-fat versions, either.’ But bare in mind that organic milk can affect your iodine levels as found in the recent study
ENJOY AN EGG
Eating eggs during pregnancy can improve your baby’s memory and help to protect her against breast cancer later on, research has found. A US study on pregnant mice revealed that the nutrient choline, found in eggs, helped the babies’ brains develop their memories. Earlier US research on rats found that a high choline-intake during pregnancy protected the mother rats’ daughters against breast cancer. ‘Eggs are a good source of iron and protein,’ says midwife Virginia. ‘The advice generally given is not to eat raw and runny eggs due to the risk of salmonella. However, eggs that are stamped have come from vaccinated hens, which means the risk is almost non-existent. Avoid raw and runny eggs if you don’t know the origin, though.’
You’ve heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but did you know that apples may also help lower the risk of your baby developing asthma, too? A study by the University of Aberdeen found that mums-to-be who ate the most apples had babies who were less likely to develop asthma by the age of 5. Apples contain powerful antioxidants, called flavonoids, which may provide the protective effect. Another advantage is that many mums-to-be find snacking on green apples helps to combat nausea. ‘Eat as many apples as you fancy,’ says midwife Virginia. However, eating a variety of fruit is best, as this will provide a wider range of vitamins and minerals.’ Aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables a day to benefit.
FEAST ON FISH
Eating oily fish in the last three months of pregnancy can boost your baby’s brain development, according to a 2008 Canadian study. The last three months of pregnancy is a crucial period for the development of your baby’s eyes and brain, and researchers found that omega-3 oils, found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, fresh tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines, had positive effects on babies’ sensory, cognitive and motor development. Try having sardines on toast for an easy, healthy snack – just right for the extra 200 to 300 calories you need during the last three months of pregnancy. However, make sure you don’t eat more than two portions of oily fish per week though, as there’s concern about pollutants. Omega-3 supplements are a good alternative if you don’t like eating oily fish.
For more healthy eating ideas, see more on pregnancy diet