Parenting is a full-time job on its own, without the added pressure of medical literature, in-law advice or trying to keep up with that perfect family always posting on Facebook.
"Once upon a time I was a perfect parent. Then I had children. The End."
In his book "Brain Rules For Baby", developmental molecular biologist and dad Dr John Medina, bridges the gap between what scientists know and what parents practise.
1. Baby's IQ during the 1st trimester of pregnancy
An adult human brain contains about 100-billion neurons formed before we are born. The embryo's brain produces approximately 250,000 cells per minute, most generated as early as week three and during the first four months of gestation.
The scientists' belief is that at this stage, the human embryo needs to be undisturbed.
All throughout your pregnancy, stay away from potentially harmful substances like smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs – even over-the-counter drugs. Always ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Scientists studying human evolution attest that morning sickness kicked in as an ancestral mechanism forcing the mother to stay away from toxic, potentially spoiled or exotic foods that might harm the embryo. One of the hormones inducing morning sickness is also a stimulant for the development of neurons in the embryo's brain.
2. Baby's IQ throughout the pregnancy
A mother's weight gain during pregnancy is vital to the well-being of her unborn baby. A study shows that a foetus' IQ grows in proportion to its weight gain while inside the mother's womb. A pregnant woman with healthy weight gain, good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle will influence the weight of her newborn positively.
A pregnancy vitamin supplement rich in folic acid and omega 3 is indicated.
And food cravings?
Studies have proved that food cravings are stress related, not pointing towards a vitamin deficiency. An anxious woman used to giving in to chocolate during stressful times will most probably go on craving chocolate whenever she hits a stressful time during pregnancy.
3. A stressful pregnancy and baby's IQ
If a pregnant woman is stressed, anxious or depressed, this can affect how the baby's brain will develop. Research shows that the child will be at greater risk of slow learning or behavioural problems such as ADHD.
Severe stress suffered by mothers during pregnancy can have the following consequences for the baby:
● Change the foetus' body temperature, making the baby more irritable in the womb;
● Reduce the baby's IQ (by up to eight points);
● Affect the baby's motor skills, attention span and concentration – visible from six years of age;
● Affect the baby's own response to stressful situations; and
● Even reduce the baby's brain size.
Project Ice Storm: Effects of prenatal maternal stress on mother and child.
"Researchers at Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University followed more than 150 families after a severe storm, and found specific markers on the DNA of children whose mothers were pregnant or became pregnant soon after the disaster, providing rare evidence of how maternal hardships can have long-term genetic consequences."
A good solution to reduce stress is being active.
Staying active during pregnancy
Women who have an active lifestyle and engage in regular physical activities during pregnancy have an easier birthing experience – shorter and less painful.
Pregnant women are advised to stay active and do mild exercise, without pushing it too hard.
During the third trimester, the best sport for a pregnant woman is swimming. It is a low-impact sport and keeps the pregnant woman's body temperature constant, so her uterus does not overheat.
- Intense physical activity will reduce the blood supply to the uterus, which will decrease the oxygen supply to the foetus.
- If the pregnant woman's body temperature is raised by more than two degrees Celsius, this can negatively affect the cerebral and visual development of the foetus during the third trimester of pregnancy.
Family relationships during pregnancy
Dr John Medina points out that during the first year of the baby's life, the number of hostile interactions between the new parents is often on the rise. Specialists believe that this can be harmful to the baby, which is very sensitive to external factors at the beginning of its life.
A prolonged exposure to hostility can have a negative impact on the baby, lowering its IQ and its ability to manage stress later in life.
During the first year of life, a baby's main cognitive focus is on survival. Once the baby forms an attachment with its main caregiver, its brain can develop normally, resulting in a happy, sociable baby able to manage stressful situations.
If the baby cannot feel this trust and safety, then the genetic code tells its brain to develop in a different way – with a negative impact on its social, emotional and educational prospects.
The ingredients that contribute towards the making of a clever child:
- Breastfeeding can raise a baby's IQ by up to eight points;
- Talking to a baby and a child about various topics will expose the child to a wider vocabulary;
- Playing games with your child will stimulate the child's mind;
- As will engaging your child in music and sports.
* The information in this article is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice.