Smarter Babies

January 18, 2008 11:17:29 AM PST
All kinds of products are advertised as brain boosters for children - classical music, books, TV shows - but what really works? Studies show up to 20 percent of a child's IQ is influenced by prenatal experience. So researchers have identified ways to boost a baby's brain activity before he or she is even born.

Three-year-old Parker is smart for his age, and mom Lynette Whiston hopes her next baby will be, too!

"It's important, so our children can accomplish what they want to in life," she said.

Whiston's not alone. Today, parents-to-be feel the need to invest in all sorts of gadgets to make their babies smarter.

"I think there's a fad these days to try to stimulate your baby before birth, and I have not seen any evidence that it is beneficial," said Dr. Lise Eliot, neurobiologist at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago.

So what does work? Experts say pregnant women can begin by getting the right nutrients. Choline helps memory areas of the brain develop. It's recommended moms-to-be get 450 milligrams a day. And folic acid supplements are recommended before conception.

"It's wise advice for all women just to take a multi-vitamin every day," said Eliot.

Studies have shown children whose mothers consume fish oil score about four IQ points higher on tests. And breast-fed children score up to five points higher.

Women who gain about 20 percent of their ideal body weight are said to have children with higher IQs. And one study shows those who exercise while pregnant have smarter children at 5 years old.

"Women who exercise regularly have more easier deliveries," said Eliot.

That could mean a happier and a more alert baby. Lowering stress levels could, too. Stress hormones can cross the placenta and in extreme cases and cause pre-term delivery.

But what about after the babies are born? Can those special toys, DVDs and TV shows really make your baby even smarter?

"There is no direct evidence that suggest if you buy special videos or really hype it up or interact in particular ways you are going to get a smarter baby," said Fran Stott, professor at the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development in Chicago.

Stott says good nutrition before and after the baby is born, combined with one-on-one interaction, is key. Even just getting on the floor and playing with your baby or toddler does amazing things for their brain development.

"With infants, you need love and basic care and interaction. They do not need high-powered stimulation," said Stott. "They need interaction, and there is a difference."

So, the message to parents is to relax and know there are simple steps to give babies the best start possible.

Moms to be should also see their dentist. Periodontal disease can increase the risk of having a preemie by more than seven times.

Erikson Institute
420 North Wabash Ave.
Chicago, Il.

Lise Eliot, Ph.D.
"What's Going on in There."
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science
3333 Green Bay Rd.