How Is Your Diet Helping Your Baby’s Brain Grow?
“A lack of nutrients in your baby’s early life can harm their neurological development which can affect them well into adult life.”
A recent study set out to see which fatty acids in human milk are most helpful for neurological development and how maternal nutrition affects the nutritional content of her breast milk.
Nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, folate, iodine, selenium, and fatty acids in breast milk are affected by diet. The fatty acids in your milk, (the building blocks of our fat) are affected primarily by what you eat and have a meaningful impact on your baby’s brain development. In the first year of life, the brain is rapidly growing and must be supplied with the proper nutrients for optimal development. If your diet is lacking in fatty acids, your mammary glands may not be keeping up with needs of your baby.
The lack of adequate nutrients in the early stages of life can harm a baby's neurological development and affect future adulthood. A newborn's brain is growing in size and function in a short amount of time, and this stage cannot be recreated later. The infant brain is forming pathways (dendrites) and connections (synapses) which require fatty acids like DHA and lots of energy to support their growth.
Because our bodies don't make fatty acids on their own, we rely on our diets to introduce them to our milk. The fats found in the tissue of fish and other seafoods are richer in DHA than meats and poultry. The amount of protein your diet is a big factor in how much DHA you are getting and transferring to your milk and baby.
First foods should also be high in fatty acids and animal proteins should be introduced at around 6 months. Meat, fish, poultry, and egg yolk are good sources of DHA while most cereals, veggies and fruit are low in fatty acids.
Studies have shown a decrease in fatty acids due to modern diets. If you don’t consume meat or other animal products, be sure to get enough DHAs through various nuts and seeds (such as flaxseeds and walnuts) and plenty of vegetables like cauliflower and spinach. Supplements can also be an option if you are on a restrictive diet.
If you have concerns about the levels DHA in your breastmilk, consider getting your milk tested or booking an appointment with a licensed dietician.
Innis, Sheila M. “Impact of maternal diet on human milk composition and neurological development of infants.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 99, issue 3, March 2014, pp. 734S–741S. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.113.072595