“Now why did I put my car keys in the fridge?”
Fact: Baby brain syndrome, the dippy feeling experienced by many mothers during pregnancy may be due to massive fluctuations in hormonal levels, sleep deprivation, loss of energy, difficulty in concentrating on anything other than the pregnancy, and lack of the essential fatty acid, omega-3.
Lack of omega-3 can result in 3 percent or more shrinkage in the mother’s brain, which accounts for the short-term memory loss that many women experience in their third trimester. The essential fatty acid is so important to the development of the baby’s brain in late pregnancy, that high levels are absorbed from the mother’s blood. If maternal blood levels are low, omega-3 is obtained from the mother’s brain.
Mothers can increase general brain function by eating oily fish rich in omega-3 such as organic natural salmon, sardines, halibut, and herring. Even small amounts can make a significant difference.
Raw nuts, flax, mustard, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and dark green leafy vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and spinach also contain trace amounts of omega-3.
Regular intake of fish has reduced dramatically in recent years, due to the risk of foetal exposure to methyl mercury, which has been linked to birth defects and brain damage in the past. This is particularly worrying in the light of recent work that shows that many disorders are the result of poor intake of omega-3 during pregnancy. Recent studies have shown that methyl mercury in fish is not as toxic as was originally proposed. Individual cases of toxicity are very rare.
As a precautionary measure, the Food Standards Agency suggests that pregnant women and nursing mothers avoid large fish (e.g. tuna, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel) and only eat smaller fish such as salmon, sardines, halibut, and herring.
For mothers who dislike fish or wish to avoid it, omega-3 can be obtained from algae-derived supplements. Cod liver oil should be avoided since it may contain high amounts of vitamin A, which can be harmful. However, mothers who take medication for blood pressure or blood thinning or bruise very easily should check with their healthcare professional before taking omega-3 supplements.
Fun fact: some research shows that mums expecting girls may be more forgetful than those expecting boys. Although the reasons are unknown, it is thought that the increase in oestrogen can have a negative effect on the hippocampus – part of the brain involved in short-term memory.
By Dr. Lin Day (www.babysensory.com)