Discover the easy tweaks you can make during pregnancy to boost your baby’s development
Whether or not you have prior nurturing experience (pets, house plants… cress?), the task of growing a baby can still feel overwhelmingly important compared to pretty much everything else you’ve ever done – and it can be a little scary, too. Fortunately, your body knows what to do, so you can mostly relax and enjoy the ride. But along the way, there are some key changes you can make to ensure your baby’s growing in the perfect environment.
1 Balance Your Stress Levels
Just because you’re pregnant, your life won’t magically become stress free. Morning sickness and mood swings can actually add to pressure at work. Stress and relaxation hormones can breach the placenta barrier and affect your baby’s developing brain, so it’s a case of balancing the two. Research from the University of Denver suggests that women with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol had babies that were less fretful. But a small amount of stress can be positive, says clinical psychologist Mia Scotland: ‘Stress hormones send more blood to your baby’s heart, brain and kidneys.’ The key is balance: if you have to do something stressful, like moving house, make sure packing is followed by a relaxing pregnancy massage or cup of herbal tea.
'A small amount of stress can be positive'
2 Eat Low-GI Snacks
Following a low glycaemic index (GI) diet balances your glucose levels, says pregnancy nutritionist Saidee Bailey. Foods such as leafy green vegetables, cereals, nuts and pulses all have a low GI, which means they release energy slowly and keep blood sugar levels stable. This may help with morning sickness, and is crucial for your baby’s development. ‘Babies in the womb need glucose to grow,’ says Saidee. ‘If you have peaks and troughs in your blood sugar it stops your body absorbing nutrients as effectively.’ To make your diet more low-GI, snack on things like oatcakes, houmous, brazil nuts and almonds (visit gidiet.com).
3 Play Music That Makes You Happy
Previous studies suggested that classical music has a positive effect on your baby’s brain development. Now experts believe playing your favourite tracks is even more effective. ‘Music triggers happy hormones in your baby’s brain, like serotonin and endorphins,’ says parenting expert Dr Miriam Stoppard. By choosing music you love, you’ll feel happy and the serotonin and endorphins your body is making will pass to your baby, for a double whammy of happiness.
4 Take Your Vitamin D
A surprising number of us may be vitamin D deficient, according to fertility expert Zita West. ‘We test all the pregnant women who come to our clinic and 70% are deficient,’ she says. A recent study showed that higher levels of the vitamin in mothers-to-be meant stronger children with better muscle mass who could grip a device more tightly. As well as aiming to spend 10 minutes a day in the sun with bare arms in the summer, and half an hour outside in winter, boost your intake with a daily 10 microgram supplement of vitamin D.
5 Get An Exercise Hit
'Women who stick with a fitness routine have babies with healthier hearts and lower risks of heart disease'
Your baby can become an excuse to stop exercising (hello, sofa), but women who stick with a fitness routine have babies with healthier hearts and lower risks of heart disease, stroke and diabetes later in life. As long as you were already doing regular sessions pre-pregnancy, high-intensity training can improve your baby’s growing environment. ‘Exercising for longer than 45 minutes puts strain on your body, particularly during pregnancy,’ says Zana Morris of The Library Gym. ‘Two or three short bursts of intense exercise, taking only five or six minutes in total, will help your circulation, muscle tone and fitness.’
6 Minimise Pollution
If you live and work in the city, avoiding smoggy streets may be impossible, but there are ways to decrease your exposure. ‘Car exhausts release an invisible mist of black carbon particles that are inhaled into your lungs,’ says Professor Jonathan Grigg, from Queen Mary University of London. Even walking on the far side of the pavement (away from the road) offers some protection, as does avoiding rush hour and choosing quieter back streets. Help your body fight back by eating antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables such as kale, peppers, kiwi, broccoli and tomatoes.
7 Try The Brain-Boosting Trio
As well as key players, such as folic acid and iron, there are other nutrients that play a crucial role in your baby’s development during pregnancy. ‘The three that work hardest to build your baby’s brain are DHA (a fatty acid in fish), choline (in fish, chicken and eggs) and iodine (in dairy, eggs and fish),’ says Saidee. But to make the most of them you have to eat them with the right foods. ‘For instance, DHA works best with vitamin E, iodine with selenium – in seeds, nuts and wholegrain bread – and choline with folic acid,’ explains Saidee. A great baby-brain-boosting lunch is tuna, spinach and asparagus salad with sunflower seeds and citrus dressing.