How to Have a Smarter Child
Heredity, of course, has a lot to do with how smart your child will turn out. But the environment in which he or she develops is an important factor.
Less obvious enemies can be equally deadly to the developing
brain. One of these is lead from old paint and plumbing. Families living in
older homes should have their air and water tested, Darvill says.
Seafood from contaminated waters may harbor brain toxins such
as PCBs, methyl mercury, lead, cadmium, and pesticides. Warnings by authorities
against eating local fish should be taken seriously by pregnant women, says
Philippe Grandjean, MD, professor of environmental health at Boston University
School of Public Health. The FDA says moms-to-be should avoid swordfish, king
mackerel, tilefish, and other large ocean fish that tend to concentrate toxic
Especially during the first trimester, infections like German
measles or toxoplasmosis, which is caused by a parasite that can be contracted
through contact with infected cat feces, can wreak havoc on the embryonic
brain. So pregnant women should stay away from sick children and avoid changing
the litter box whenever possible.
Thyroid disease is another culprit that can sneak up unnoticed,
says endocrinologist John Lazarus, MD. Babies born to women with low thyroid
function are more likely to have low IQ. To determine whether thyroid
replacement in similar women might help, his group at the University of Wales
College of Medicine in Cardiff has started a seven-year clinical study.
Can you jump-start Junior's brain by playing Mozart through
earphones wired to your belly?
No, says Kenneth M. Steele, PhD, an associate professor of
psychology at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
"There is no solid scientific evidence that human fetuses
either need or benefit from additional stimulation of the 'Mozart-effect'
variety," Steele tells WebMD. Sounds entering the fluid-filled womb are
muffled and distorted. It's much like hearing the noise of a pool party when
your head is under water.
Cranking up the stereo volume could eventually damage the
mother's hearing, and transmitting sound directly to the unborn child through
earphones could permanently damage the baby's sensitive ears. Steele recommends
that pregnant women also avoid prolonged exposure to high intensity sounds,
especially those of lower pitch than the human voice: "If it's too loud for
the mother then it's probably too loud for the baby."
When you're eating for two, remember that both of you need a
whole host of nutrients to support the dramatic changes taking place. As your
child travels that amazing journey from single cell to fully developed baby,
her brain cells are especially finicky about what they need to achieve their
"Prenatal nutrition for the mother is essential,"
Schoenthaler tells WebMD. "A supplement is an insurance policy rather than
a replacement for good eating."
In addition to a prenatal vitamin/mineral supplement, he
recommends five or six daily servings of fruits and vegetables and five of
whole grains. As fat and protein are crucial for fetal brain development, total
calories should include at least 12% in lean proteins and not more than 30% in
fat or 10% in sugar.
"Mom needs a healthy diet, and she does need to start
eating for two," Darvill says. "There will be plenty of time to drop
the extra pounds involved in pregnancy later."