Valerie Gommon Midwife’s Blog

Don’t let baby shrink your brain!

Posted on: April 16, 2012

Another Guest Blog from Sheila Sheppard, Nutritional Therapist.

We know that a baby is nourished in the womb not only by what its mother eats during pregnancy, but also by her body. It’s important, therefore, to be well nourished prior to, throughout and beyond pregnancy to protect your own health.

Here is just one example of how important it is for you to meet your baby’s nutritional needs as well as your own, throughout pregnancy and beyond.

Three weeks after conception, your baby’s brain begins to form, and continues to develop rapidly throughout your pregnancy. The brain is 60% fat and the two most important components are DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid from fish) and ARA (arachidonic acid, from meat, eggs and dairy). These fats are transferred across the placenta and are also present in human milk; they are accumulated in the brain and retina during foetal and infant development.

Most of us consume plenty of foods with ARA so this isn’t usually a worry, unless mum is vegetarian or vegan. Omega-3 is another matter though, as many people don’t eat any fish at all, or avoid oily fish such as salmon, pilchards, sardines, mackerel and tuna.

In her third trimester, the mother needs to eat foods rich in DHA: the placenta takes DHA from her blood and concentrates it in the baby’s circulation; the baby’s DHA level is now double his mother’s.  If she has low blood levels of DHA (because she’s not eating much – or any), DHA is also taken from the richest store – her own brain.  This may account for the slight shrinkage of women’s brain cells and the poor concentration experienced during late pregnancy. The baby continues to need DHA in his milk up to around 4 months and mum needs to keep up a steady intake to protect her own stores of DHA while making sure baby gets enough too.

Research shows that deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in pregnancy and beyond is linked to post-natal depression, and to behavioural, learning and visual difficulties in children.

Oily fish is recommended 2-3 times per week, and if you can’t manage this then you should seek professional recommendation of a fish oil supplement with good levels of DHA; vegetarian DHA supplements are made from algae. You could also enjoy a regular serving of home made taramasalata (made from fish eggs), a recipe for this is on my website If you’d like to know more about nutrition in pregnancy, for infants or for weaning, please get in touch.


Sheila Sheppard Dip NT, mBANT, CNHC


07799 132999

16th April 2012


4 Responses to "Don’t let baby shrink your brain!"

[…] from: Don't let baby shrink your brain! « Valerie Gommon Midwife's Blog Share and […]

Interesting article, but as a vegetarian that eats very little dairy, what would you have suggested for me when I was pregnant? I have had 4 now so not looking at having more. I dont eat dairy or milk. I do on occasions cook with flax seeds which I think has omega oils in, but to be honest my kids have all turned out ok. One is significantly ahead of his class, the other is about average, and the two youngest are not of school age. Doesnt seem to have affected their brain development though. Interested on your thoughts on that. Many thanks. x

Hi Sarah, thanks for your comments/questions which I will forward to Sheila. I nearly did put a disclaimer … we all know that babies mostly take what they need from their mothers whilst in utero, and most babies (and mothers) do very well – I think the article is pointing out that optimum nutrition is important both for maintaining a pregnancy and for the general well-being of the mother and her baby (particularly important if you are carrying more than one baby). “Food” for thought!

Thanks for your feedback and questions, Sarah. Many women have healthy babies with a vegetarian pregnancy diet though I strongly recommend eating some animal products, particularly dairy, eggs (combine with fresh vegetables [vitamin C] to enhance iron absorption), and seafoods [especially tinned pilchards with bones for calcium]. These provide vital nutrients in a form your can body absorb well, and they’ll enhance the absorption of the plant-based foods you’re getting. Healthy fats (butter and plant based such as coconut, flax, olive, walnut and avocado oil (and as food) are also vital to help you digest and absorb nutrients. Plant based proteins are incomplete (apart from quinoa) so need to be combined to provide a complete protein, eg brown rice & lentils, beans & rice. Sea vegetables are a good source of nutrients. I’d also recommend nutritional supplements to ensure you have vitamins B12, A and D, and an omega-3 supplement made from algae, to provide essential EPA and DHA (commonly derived from oily fish). Iron levels need to be kept up, so add 1 tbsp of blackstrap molasses a day and one tbsp of Brewer’s yeast flakes (not baking yeast) to help. Prune juice and beetroot juice both contain absorbable iron. By the way, many children are deficient in iron, essential for haemoglobin and healthy immune function.
As for your children’s brain development, I can’t offer a view as I don’t know what kind of diet they have enjoyed, nor do I know whether you have been vegetarian all your life. Our children are made from the mother’s body as well as from what she eats during pregnancy. Evidence shows that the most well-nourished mothers produce the healthiest, strongest children. You don’t say whether your children are vegetarians too; if they are, then you might consider the information above for them also.
If you’re interested to learn more you may like to visit Barker D (2008) Nutrition in the Womb.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: