How Do I Boost My Baby’s Brain Development?
Parents always believe their child is a star. Did you know when a baby is born, their brain will actually contain more neurons than there are stars in the Milky Way? But, how do we nurture this so-called “star-power” and harness intelligence in our kids? A Texas A&M Health Science Center pediatric expert weighs in on the best ways to boost your baby’s cognitive development.
During infancy and throughout a child’s first year of life is when the brain develops the most and has the best potential to be influenced. “By the time a child enters kindergarten their brain is 90 percent developed and formed,” said Alison Pittman, R.N., a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing and certified pediatric nurse. “Focusing on your child’s brain development in the first year is extremely important.”
Feed the brain—literally
There are several nutrients essential during pregnancy, and none more important for baby’s brain development than folic acid, iron and essential fatty acids.
Most expecting mothers already know to take a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid, but many may not understand the ‘why’ behind its importance. “Folic acid is essential for the formation of the neural tube in the fetus,” Pittman said. “The neural tube is what eventually forms the brain and spinal cord of the baby. Neural tube defects like spina bifida and brain dysfunction disorders are more likely to occur when enough folic acid isn’t available.”
Iron is also an integral nutrient for pregnancy. While iron is normally found in prenatal vitamins, Pittman said many babies in developing countries are still at risk for iron deficiency anemia (a condition where the body doesn’t produce enough healthy red blood cells).
“When the brain is developing it needs lots of oxygen,” Pittman said. “Iron is what carries oxygen to to every cell in the body and our brain. From conception on, we must ensure mom is getting sufficient iron. Mothers who are breastfeeding should still supplement with iron, and those who choose to formula feed their infant should pick iron-fortified formulas under supervision of the baby’s health care provider.”
According to Pittman, other nutrients essential to brain development are essential fatty acids. “Essential fatty acids—DHAs and ALAs—naturally occur in a woman’s breast milk and help form the cells of the brain,” she said. “Essential fatty acids help build the cells, regulate the nervous system, and may even protect against conditions like Type II diabetes and heart disease. We are starting to see essential fatty acids added to many infant formulas because of their immense benefits.”
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