Women who eat a diet rich in fatty fish can help boost their child’s brain function and eyesight, according to a small Finnish study published in the journal Pediatric Research.
The new findings support previous studies that emphasize the importance of an expectant mother’s diet and lifestyle choices when it comes to the development of her baby.
Study leader Kirsi Laitinen, from the University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, says that a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding is the main way for valuable long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids to become available to a fetus during the period of maximum brain growth in the first years of a child’s life.
Such fatty acids help shape nerve cells important to eyesight, particularly in the retina. They are also important in forming the synapses that are vital in the transport of messages between neurons in the nervous system.
For the study, the researchers looked at the results of 56 mothers and their children drawn from a larger study. The mothers had to keep a regular food diary during the course of their pregnancy. Fluctuations in their weight before and during pregnancy were taken into account, along with their blood sugar levels and blood pressure. The researchers also took into account whether the mothers had smoked or developed pregnancy-related diabetes.
The researchers took note of the levels of nutritional long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid sources in the mother’s diet and blood serum, as well as the children’s blood levels by the age of one month.
The children were tested again around their second birthday using pattern reversal visual evoked potentials (pVEP). This sensitive and accurate, non-invasive method is used to detect visual functioning within a young child’s visual system.
The subsequent analyses of the visual test results showed that babies whose mothers ate fish three or more times a week during the last trimester of their pregnancy fared better than those whose mothers ate no fish or only up to two portions per week. These observations were further substantiated when the serum phospholipid fatty acid status was measured.
“The results of our study suggest that frequent fish consumption by pregnant women is of benefit for their unborn child’s development. This may be attributable to long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids within fish, but also due to other nutrients like vitamin D and E, which are also important for development,” says Laitinen.
“Our study therefore highlights the potential importance of subtle changes in the diet of healthy women with uncompromised pregnancies, beyond prematurity or nutritional deficiencies, in regulating infantile neurodevelopment,” adds Laitinen, who believes the new findings should be incorporated into diet counseling for pregnant women.