It is exciting to see how a baby develops in the womb. During the nine-month pregnancy, the fetus completes important developmental steps in order to see the light of day as a fully mature human being. This also includes brain development. In fact, there are certain factors that can affect this process. Therefore expectant mothers should be very careful to ensure a good health of their baby.
The Brain: A Complex Organ
We could not exist without our brain. The development of the human brain is extremely complex. In fact, it begins shortly after conception and continues into early adulthood. In the 3rd week of pregnancy, the baby’s brain begins to develop. Neural progenitor cells begin to divide and differentiate into neurons and glial cells, the two cell types that form the basis of the nervous system. While neurons and synapses are formed in the first trimester, in the second trimester the brain begins to control the functions of the body. In the third trimester, the brain divides into left and right halves as it continues to grow.
Fetal Brain and Nutrition During Pregnancy
Proper nutrition during pregnancy is crucial for the child’s brain to develop properly. This includes an optimal supply of folic acid and a sufficient supply of omega-3 fatty acids. Among other things, these nutrients are helpful in the development of neural synapses, or connections between nerves. Research also shows that the nutrient choline plays an important role in the development of children’s brains. It is found in meat, fish, poultry, legumes and nuts. Studies show that the information processing speed of the offspring was improved when the mother consumed a high amount of this nutrient during pregnancy.
The Effects of Stress on the Child’s Brain
It’s no secret that stress can have a negative impact on health. Expectant mothers should take extra care not to be overly stressed, as research suggests maternal stress levels may be linked to changes in areas of the infant’s brain that are linked to emotional development. A research team led by the University of Edinburgh showed that cortisol levels are linked to the development of the baby’s amygdala, an area of the brain known to be involved in emotional and social development in childhood.
The researchers found that higher maternal hair cortisol levels were linked to structural changes in the infants’ amygdala, as well as differences in brain connections. Cortisol is involved in the body’s response to stress, with higher levels indicating higher levels of stress, and also plays a role in fetal growth. This could be why women who experience a lot of stress during pregnancy are more likely to have children who have emotional difficulties later in life. Research like this underscores the importance of providing mothers-to-be with stress management support to give their offspring a good start in life.
How Alcohol Affects the Brain of the Fetus
Another factor that negatively affects the child’s brain development is alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It is important to note that even small amounts are dangerous and can alter the baby’s brain structure and delay brain development. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can result in children having more irreversible physical and psychological birth defects and later developing behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and language delays.
Researchers looked at the impact of alcohol on fetuses between 22 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. They found that in these children, total fetal maturation (fTMS) was significantly lower than age-matched controls, and the right superior temporal groove (STS) was shallower. STS is related to social cognition, audiovisual integration, and language perception. Even in mothers who rarely consumed alcohol, the experts were able to identify significant changes in the brain. They propose that the delayed development of the fetal brain is specifically related to a delayed stage of myelination and less pronounced gyrification in the frontal and occipital lobes. The myelination process is essential for the functioning of the brain and nervous system. Baby’s rolling, crawling, and language processing are all associated with it. Gyrification is involved in cognitive performance.
It’s unclear how these structural changes will affect the babies’ brain development after birth. This requires further research. However, for women who are expecting a child, it is crucial to follow a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy in order to ensure the health of the baby.