A new parenting book by developmental molecular biologist John Medina, a father of two, hit bookstores in early October. It's called "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five." In his book, Medina unravels how a child's brain develops, and reveals what you can do to optimize it.
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One of his chapters is dedicated to pregnancy - what you can do while your baby's still in the womb, and what fetuses are aware of during their stay in the protective environment of your body. He highlights four key points that moms-to-be should be aware of:
1) In the first half of pregnancy, babies mostly want to be left alone. Medina writes, "From the baby's point of view, the best feature of life in the womb it its relative lack of stimulation." This is the time the embryo's pre-brain is very active, pumping out neurons at an amazing rate of 500,000 cells a minute. To do this, a peaceful, non-interactive environment is just what the baby needs.
2) Don't waste your money on products claiming to improve a fetus' IQ, temperament or personality. None of them have been proven to work. Some books published in the '90s (and earlier) falsely advertised things such as, "Teach your baby to spell in the womb," "Teach your child a second language before birth" and "Increase your baby's IQ by as much as 30 points." According to Medina, no commercial product has ever been shown to do anything to improve the brain performance of a developing fetus.
3) In the second half of pregnancy, babies begin to perceive and process a great deal of sensory information. Their sense of smell becomes heightened to the point that they can smell the perfume you wear, the garlic on the pizza you just ate and even the amniotic fluid they're living in. Medina says your baby may actually prefer these comforting smells after birth; it's called "olfactory labeling." He has this advice for moms who have just given birth: Immediately after your baby is born, rub her with her own amniotic fluid before washing her with soap and water. Studies show it will calm the baby down.
4) A mother-to-be can boost her baby's brain development with four things: proper weight gain, a balanced diet, moderate exercise and stress reduction. These have all been scientifically proven to help a fetus' brain develop to its optimal level. Medina also says there are two supplements that are known to influence brain development in utero. One is folic acid; he advises women to take it around the time of conception. The other is omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential components of neurons. Humans have a hard time making omega-3s, so the best way to get them is either by eating fish or taking a supplement. Researchers recommend that pregnant women eat fish that has low concentrations of mercury, such as salmon, cod, sardines and canned white tuna.
Some mom says: "With the omega 3's - I'm no fish person and I couldn't handle the huge pills. However, I found both gummies and some tasty 'gels' in the kids vitamin section of our grocery. So no excuses!"
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