Your Baby’s Growth and Brain Development During Pregnancy
Every new parent-to-be has questions—and I’m here to answer yours. Thanks to our supporter Healthy Families New York, I was happy to participate in a Facebook Live event recently in which I got to answer common questions from new parents-to-be about their babies’ growth and development during pregnancy (scroll through to watch the whole event!).
When does a baby’s brain begin to develop?
Many people may not realize, but a baby’s brain starts to develop oftentimes before a pregnant person even knows they’re pregnant! Brain development begins around 4-6 weeks of pregnancy. While that’s really amazing, it can also be stressful to learn because a lot can happen before you even know you’re pregnant.
Maintaining regular appointments with your OB/GYN or midwife is a key element to a healthy pregnancy and healthy growth and development for your baby.
At Bundoo, we also offer a weekly update on how your pregnancy is progressing and how your baby is growing and developing each week.
What supplements can I take to support my baby’s growth and brain development?
If you’re not taking a prenatal vitamin, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not getting enough folic acid in your diet. Folic acid is key for neural tube and spinal cord development during the first trimester of pregnancy. The goal is go get 600 mcg of folic acid each day during pregnancy. Most prenatal vitamins contain around 400 mcg, with the remainder of your goal coming from your diet. However, some people need extra folic acid supplementation, to support multiples or if you have a family history of certain complications.
Recently, there have been debates on whether folate should be taken since some people may not process folic acid as effectively. The best answer I can give you is that we do not have studies showing the effects of folate during pregnancy. But we do have studies on the efficacy of folic acid. Folic acid is the studied supplement, and it is what we know reduces the risk of birth defects during pregnancy.
As for prenatal vitamins, my best advice is to find one that works for you. Whether you take a prenatal pill or gummy is totally up to you – I just encourage you to keep up with the prenatals to keep yourself and your growing baby healthy throughout your pregnancy!
How can going to regular appointments with an OB/GYN help support baby’s growth and development?
The bottom line is that regular appointments, whether with an OB/GYN or a midwife, can greatly reduce your risk for health complications during pregnancy and reduce your baby’s chances of complications. Monitoring your vital signs and baby’s growth during pregnancy have proven to increase positive birth outcomes.
Prenatal visits are also the perfect time for you to discuss a birth plan or your birth preferences with your provider. Going over your preferences ahead of time with your provider will help manage expectations when it comes to your labor and delivery experience.
What is a full-term pregnancy, and why is it important?
In the past, delivering anywhere from 3 weeks before your due date until 2 weeks after was considered a “term” pregnancy. Now, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has revised their standing on what it means to have a “full-term” pregnancy.
You are full term at 39 weeks gestation.
There is still a lot of development, including brain development, occurring from 37 weeks gestation until 39-40 weeks. Yes, there are sometimes medically necessary reasons for you to deliver before the 37-week mark, and that’s where weighing the risks and benefits with your provider will come into play.
Also know that it is often okay to go beyond 40 weeks in your pregnancy. While 39 weeks up to 41 weeks is now considered full term, 41 weeks is now a late-term pregnancy. We generally want to deliver by 41 weeks and if not by 41 weeks, by 42 weeks with some monitoring in between.
What substances should I avoid during pregnancy to reduce risks to baby’s development?
While there are definitely things you should be doing, like taking prenatal vitamins, there are also things you should avoid during pregnancy. Alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and other illicit drugs should be avoided.
We have a lot of research on the complications that can come with using or abusing alcohol or tobacco products during pregnancy. However, the research on other potentially harmful substances is not as widely known to the average pregnant person.
With cannabis becoming more readily available, and legal, in the United States, many women may be using marijuana recreationally or even to help ward off pregnancy related nausea. While studies are limited with self reporting, we do have research linking marijuana use in pregnancy to developmental issues for an unborn baby. These issue range from brain development delays to lower birth weight and a higher chance of stillbirth. There may also be a link to behavioral disorders during childhood.
We also know that painkillers and opioids should be prescribed rarely and responsibly during pregnancy as they can be highly addictive. One of the biggest risks to your unborn baby is that they may be born addicted to these same narcotics and go through withdrawal after birth.
Now, if you are using any of these substances and are pregnant, work with your provider to make realistic goals for yourself in weaning and eventually stopping. Don’t abruptly stop any medications until you talk with your doctor so a plan can be made to keep you and your baby safe.
Healthy Families New York (HFNY) offers home-based services to support expectant families and new parents with the changes and needs that often come with the birth of a new child. Services are voluntary and free. Services include helping families access community resources and services, educating families on parenting and child development, connecting families with medical providers and assessing children for developmental delays. Healthy Families New York can assist families with what to expect during labor and delivery, bonding with your baby, activities that help your baby’s brain development, and sharing the latest information on raising healthy children.