How does your developing baby’s brain develop?
Your little achiever starts early! From the moment of conception, your developing baby’s center of intellectual growth starts to develop – and, like the rest of his body, it will continue to do so throughout your pregnancy.
It might seem a little confusing, but your developing baby’s development is measured either by weeks, or months, which are divided into trimesters.
Gestational age is the term used to describe how far along the pregnancy is. It is measured in weeks, from the first day of the woman's last menstrual cycle to the current date. A normal pregnancy can range from 38 to 42 weeks1.
Beginning this process, during the first two and three weeks of pregnancy, is the development of the neural tube – an important groove-like structure that will eventually transform into your developing baby’s brain, spinal cord, nervous system and backbone.
By week six, the left and right hemispheres of your developing baby’s brain start to become distinct. But it’s not just the brain that is taking shape; by the end of the second month, your developing baby is developing his heart and circulatory system. That means his heart starts to beat inside of you – in fact, your developing baby’s heart beats two times faster than your own!
How do you help support your developing baby’s progress?
Your developing baby relies on you as his sole source of nutrition. This means that your diet can impact not only your health but also your developing baby’s health and development too!
You can help your developing baby’s tiny steps in cognitive development by having a well-balanced diet that provides valuable nutrients such as DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (Arachidonic acid). These nutrients are enriched with omega-3 and omega-6 fats respectively, which are critical for supporting the healthy development of your developing baby’s brain and eyes.2,3 These beneficial fats can be found in fish such as salmon, bass and anchovies.4 The US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that pregnant women consume at least eight to 12 ounces (226 to 340 grams) a week of a variety of seafood. During your first month of pregnancy, try to eat two servings of fatty fish – like salmon – each week.
Fish are extremely valuable sources of DHA, but during your pregnancy, avoid fish and shellfish that contain high levels of mercury, as too much of it can potentially harm your developing baby’s nervous system. In general, older and larger fish contain more mercury, so avoid foods like swordfish, shark and tilefish.5
Did you know?
The sense of touch is the first of the five senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch – to develop. Your developing baby will develop his sense of touch around the fifth and sixth week of your pregnancy.
What does your developing baby look like?
While his facial features are not discernable during the first month, his eyes, ears and mouth will begin to appear. Your unborn child is a unique blend of you and your partner’s DNA, so you won’t know whose physical qualities your developing baby will have until both of you see him! His sex, potential height, the color of his hair, skin and eyes, and even some of his personality traits, were determined at the moment of conception by a set of 46 chromosomes.
In the meantime, these six weeks have been a period of hard work for both of you. No wonder one of the earliest signs of pregnancy is the fact you’re feeling tired5. With all these changes, your developing baby will have grown to more than half an inch or slightly over one centimeter long. That’s about the size of the nail on your thumb – an impressive first milestone!
Did you know that your developing baby starts moving during the second month of your pregnancy? To find out how he moves, read about Pregnancy stages: Month 2
Your developing baby’s brain develops continuously throughout your pregnancy, so it’s important to eat foods that support cognitive development. Learn more about DHA
and other essential nutrients that help with his brain development.
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2Innis SM. Dietary (n-3) fatty acids and brain development. J Nutr 2007;137:855-859.
3Uauy, Ricardo, and Alan D. Dangour. Nutrition in brain development and aging: role of essential fatty acids. Nutrition reviews 2006; 64 (suppl 2): S24-S33.
4American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. FAQ001 Nutrition during pregnancy. Downloaded from http://www.acog.org/-/media/For-Patients/faq001.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20151020T09.... Accessed on October 2015.