Get in Shape, Girl! Can Exercise (and other tips) Boost Your Baby’s Brain?
There are plenty of good reasons to stay active during pregnancy, from keeping weight gain to a minimum to having an easier labor and delivery. Canadian researchers recently found another great reason – it could make your newborn smarter.
Researchers at the University of Montreal found that a mere 20 minutes of exercise three times per week can increase a newborn’s brain activity. The study split 60 women into two groups: one with an exercise regimen and one without. After their babies were born, researchers recorded the brain activity levels in the first two weeks of life, and found the babies in the group with an exercise regimen had brains that were more fully developed.
“We measured directly the brain activity,” Elise Labonte-LeMoyne, a researcher in the study, said. “It’s really specifically the brain that we’re looking at.”
One of the biggest differences between my first and second pregnancies is my level of exercise. I’m secretly thankful for the 15 minute walk from my car to my office, although there are some afternoons when the bump trumps the endorphins I get from physical activity. I’m getting a solid 30 minutes of exercise Monday through Friday, which has helped my weight gain, stamina, blood pressure, and mood. But will it help my baby have a better chance at an Ivy League school? The jury is still out on that one (and will be for a long time.)
There are other little things we can do besides exercising to give our babies the best start in life before they are born. Check out these other fun ways of boosting your baby’s brain while you’re pregnant.
Listen to Music – The womb is a super noisy place – fluids gushing, mama’s voice ringing, and her heart pounding – so it may be difficult for a your baby to hear music in the womb, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. In a 2010 study, researchers found that music and language were so intertwined that a love of music is critical to a baby’s language development. Music can calm, soothe and lower fetal heart rate, giving them more time to grow and develop. I can’t say I’ve tried putting earphones with classical music up to my belly, but I do try to sing in the car. My baby gets a double benefit – she gets to hear my (terrible) singing and learns a little about music.
Talk to your baby – If there is one thing that feels stranger than talking to a newborn who can’t talk back, it’s talking to a baby that’s still inside your body. Your baby quickly learns the sound of your voice, and can be comforted by it before birth and after. Talking to your baby can help strengthen the bond and prepare her for life outside your belly. Talking about your day can suffice, although some parents go so far as to read stories to their baby. Experts are divided on the issue: some say babies need time to grow and develop in peace, and parents should limit to 10 minutes per day.
Eat right – Eating right is the cornerstone of a healthy pregnancy because it factors into so many other aspects of prenatal care. Make sure you’re taking plenty of folic acid, skip fish high in mercury (like swordfish and shark), and add plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA, which supports baby’s brain development). Read more tips here for eating the best foods for baby’s brain, then treat yourself to a nice piece of salmon!
Touch your belly – Babies can sense their mother’s touch as early as eight weeks, and when she gets big enough to push back, that’s when the fun really begins. Researchers have found that twins begin reaching toward their “neighbors” by 14 weeks gestation, and by 18 weeks, spend more time establishing contact with their brother or sister than touching themselves. If you’re carrying a singleton, your touch is even more important. Touching and patting your belly can help forge a bond and lower your fetus’s heartbeat.
Lower your stress level – According to a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology, prenatal stress can negatively effect an unborn baby’s emotional development and could have a negative effect on IQ. Conversely, chilling out and keeping your stress level to a minimum during pregnancy is a huge benefit to your baby. Take time out of your day to do something that calms you – read a book, take a bubble bath, or watch some trashy TV (do it now before your baby is born, grows up, and realizes the terrible programming you watch!) This one is a favorite of mine, because who doesn’t love the chance to relax? I love taking a break at work to chat and laugh with my coworkers – and judging by my baby’s movements when I’m giggling, she likes it, too.