It develops the brain cells
Right at the beginning of development, around week 4, your body’s already helping your baby’s brain to form. “The brain develops right from the start as your baby needs it to grow her body and organs,” explains Joanne Taylor, midwife for Tommy’s, the baby charity (www.tommys.org).
“At around 24 to 26 weeks the brain is fully formed and just needs to get bigger as your baby does.” There’s no magic pill to boost your baby’s brainpower, but diet and lifestyle will play a part. Cut out alcohol and smoking, and eat a varied and healthy diet during your pregnancy. By the time your baby’s born you’ve helped her grow between 15 and 33 billion brain cells.
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It passes on energy
From the instant the fertilised egg enters the womb, your body is helping your baby’s umbilical cord to grow. This clever thing is ready to transfer blood, oxygen and nutrients to your baby from the placenta, which acts as your little one’s life support system.
“Your baby gets all her energy from you and the foods you eat, so whatever you’re eating and drinking gets to her in the womb,” says Joanne. Pack in lots of fruit and veg, plus starchy foods (think wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice), as well as foods rich in protein, like lean meat, chicken and fish to give your baby a healthy intake of nutrients.
“Avoid eating liver as it has high levels of vitamin A,” advises Joanne. “The same goes for unwashed food, unpasteurised milk and soft cheese as they could contain listeria, which can be harmful to you and your baby.”
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It grows the spinal cord
Around week 4 or 5, your little one’s neural tube will start to develop, which will eventually grow into her brain, backbone and spinal cord. You can help this development, and reduce the risk of spina bifida by taking your daily 400mcg folic acid supplement in the first 12 weeks .
Try and munch on foods rich in folate (folic acid in its natural form), which includes green veggies, chickpeas and brown rice, to up your intake. Remember though, even if you’re getting these foods into your diet, you’ll still need to take your supplement.
It prepares lungs for birth
Cut to b-day and chances are you’ll be waiting for that first cry from your baby when she enters the big wide world. That happy noise is all down to your body helping your baby grow a substance called surfactant, which is produced inside your baby’s lungs right from conception. “Surfactant is fluid that grows with your baby to help her lungs open when she takes her first breath,” says Joanne. “If a baby is premature, she might be given extra surfactant using a breathing tube if she hasn’t developed enough before birth to help with her breathing.”
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It protects from knocks
Your baby grows in amniotic fluid inside your womb, which your clever body produces to keep her warm, safe and secure. “The fluid is held inside the amniotic sac, which cushions your baby from knocks and infection,” explains Joanne. The sac has a thick skin made up of a membrane called chorion which holds strong until your baby’s ready to be born, when it splits to let the fluid out, more commonly known as your waters breaking.
“I’m 20 weeks pregnant and worry about knocking my bump as I have three lively dogs that jump around a lot. I keep out of their way if they’re overexcited. I’ve also been using Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Massage Lotion (from Boots) for a relaxing massage to keep the skin on my bump soft too.”
Kirsty Richards, 34, from Suffolk, 20 weeks pregnant