THE BLOG
10/23/2012 10:17 am ET | Updated Dec 23, 2012

Your Child's Good Mental Health Starts in the Womb

We often think of mental wellness as something we deal with as children, adolescents and adults, but as it turns out, much of our mental health can be dependent on what happens when we are in the womb. Dr. Alan Logan, author of The Brain Diet: The Connection Between Nutrition, Mental Health, and Intelligence, specializes in the topic of diet and how it correlates to brain function and health. In an interview, we discussed women and pregnancy, and how diet can influence the mental health and brain development of the unborn fetus. As Dr. Logan suggests, it is never too early to take care of our mental well-being.

So, what can moms-to-be do to ensure the best mental health for their soon-to-be child? Here are Dr. Logan's top four suggestions:

  1. DHA Omega-3s: Especially in the third trimester, Omega-3s are important for brain development and early childhood. Pregnant women should make sure they get enough DHA Omega-3s into their diet, which is a minimum of 300 mg of DHA Omega-3s (most women only get 85 mg of DHA). There are two types of Omega 3s -- EPA and DHA. The DHA source is the one that is most important and is mostly found in fish. That said, PCBs and mercury continue to be a major concern. There is research that both mercury and PCBs compromise the development of brain structure and brain function in young children. As a result, you should do your research on both supplement sources and fish sources:
    • Supplements: When it comes to supplements, reference the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) for their safety. One brand they list is: Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA.
    • Fish Sources: In order to know what fish is safest to eat, you can refer to the EWG.org. However, wild cooked salmon (as opposed to farmed salmon) has the lowest amount of PCBs, dioxins or mercury. As Dr. Logan puts it, wild salmon is a pregnant woman's best friend. Unfortunately, most fish consumed in our country comes from canned fish... especially albacore tuna. Albacore tuna contains very high levels of mercury and should be avoided. If you want canned tuna, look for Chunk Light tuna, which is safer.
  2. Folic Acid: Although there has been some controversy around the over consumption of Folic Acid and its link to cancer, the research and case for Folic Acid in warding off neuro-defects in unborn fetuses is much stronger. Pregnant women and those interested in becoming pregnant should be taking a minimum of 500 mcg. Most multi-vitamins do provide this amount, but if you do not take a multi-vitamin, consider taking Folic Acid as a supplement itself.
  3. Stress Management: Moms-to-be should be especially diligent about managing stress. A very stressful pregnancy means that you are essentially "bathing your developing fetus with stress hormones which can affect the development and structuring of the baby's brain." Further, when we are under stress, we are less likely to reach for healthy foods, but instead, tend to reach for those foods that are unhealthy for both mom and the fetus. Some ways to manage stress include yoga, massage, exercise and avoiding especially difficult or stressful situations.
  4. A Colorful and Varied Diet: Although this goes without saying for the average individual, it is worth mentioning for pregnant women. Consuming deep greens, as well as deeply colored purple and red pigmented vegetables and fruit, has a fantastic affect on keeping mood regulating neuro-chemicals, such as serotonin, around longer. To get a good dosage of your greens, turn to spinach, kale and even darker leaf romaine. To get your purples and reds in, enjoy berries and beets.

If pregnant, have you been paying attention to stress and diet?