Nutritional Factors That Mothers Need To Keep In Mind For Good Fetal And Infant Brain Development

The brain is the most rapidly developing part of the infants, so optimal nutrition is of utmost importance in the fetal period.

Dt Hari Lakshmi, Consultant Nutritionist & Dietician, Motherhood Hospital, Chennai.

The brain is the most rapidly developing part of the infants, so optimal nutrition is of utmost importance in the fetal period. Brain development takes place in the second decade of life and healthy nutrition is required for the brain for the entire life. The brain requires high-level nutrition to function properly. In the development stage, proper maternal and infant nutrition is required to ensure the proper growth of the brain. Thus, each nutrient is essential as a lack can hamper growth and cause developmental problems. If the deficiency is severe and long-term, the consequences can be disastrous and irreversible.

Importance of Nutrition for Mothers Before Conceiving

Women of childbearing age who are sexually active should be aware that nutrition is critical prior to conception.  The zygote grows at an incredible rate during the first few weeks of pregnancy when most women are unaware that they are pregnant. Proper nutrition promotes rapid cell division, the development of supporting structures such as the placenta, implantation, and neural tube closure during the first few weeks of pregnancy. As a result, it is critical for women of childbearing age to have adequate nutrition on hand in the event of an unexpected pregnancy.

Some nutritional factors to keep in mind in terms of maternal nutrition and subsequent brain development in infants –


  • It was suggested that folate was involved in part because it was more prevalent in low-income, potentially malnourished populations. Preconception folic acid supplementation beginning 28 days before conception reduced the incidence of NTD compared to the untreated control group, and preconception supplements also reduced recurrence. Importantly, when women were classified based on the quality of their diets, only those with bad nutrition had NTD infant Food sources you can include in boost folic acids are Dark Green leafy vegetables, Peanut, Beans, Fresh fruits ,sea foods, Liver, eggs.


Maternal iodine deficiency is a major cause of childhood cognitive issues worldwide. Iodine is an essential nutrient that must be obtained through diet and is used in the production of thyroid hormones. Iodine requirements rise during pregnancy due to increased demand for thyroid hormones, transfer of maternal iodine to the foetus throughout gestation, and renal clearance of iodine. The child will have cretinism, which is characterized by mental-deficiencies, deaf mutism, and motor spasms of the arms and legs when a woman is severely deficient during the first few days or weeks of pregnancy.

Importance of nutrition during Gestation

Maternal obesity during gestation has been related to insulin resistance and, thus, a metabolic disorder in adulthood. Infants of women who were pregnant and unable to provide adequate nutrients to their foetus in utero developed significantly had higher levels of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and adult-onset diabetes.


Vitamin D

  • Maternal vitamin D deficiency has been extensively studied for its effect on the developing fetal brain, as babies born in the winter are at a higher risk of developing schizophrenia. The foetus is completely reliant on maternal vitamin D supply. When the mother is deficient, so is the foetus. Using animal models, researchers discovered that vitamin D deficiency results in morphological different brains in the offspring: vitamin D regulates brain size, ventricle size, cell proliferation, and growth factor signal-ling. Include sources like Oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks, fortified foods-such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals.


Docosahexaenoic Acid

As part of the phospholipid bilayer, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is essential for cellular and neural function. The foetus needs a lot of maternal fatty acids. The demand is greatest during the third trimester, and multiple maternal pathways are activated to ensure adequate supply. DHA levels decline progressively throughout pregnancy, where maternal plasma DHA levels are very low near the end of pregnancy. Hence, DHA levels in the infant are typically higher than in the mother at birth implying preferential DHA transfer to the foetus.


Choline plays important role in development of cell membrane, nerve impulses, and brain formation in baby.Choline is a micronutrient found in foods such as meat, legumes, and egg, fish, beans, soya beans, mushroom, milk, Turkey, wheat germs, peanuts. Pregnant women need 450mg of choline per/day.It is the seminal source of its metabolites, which are used in the development of all tissues, essential during Pregnancy. General multi vitamin often lack choline. Aim to include choline rich source in regular diet.

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