When I was pregnant, I spent inordinate amounts of time reading, singing, playing music, and reciting poems in several languages to my fetus. He’s pretty smart… but it turns out my efforts probably have nothing to do with it.
I’ve recently learned a lot about what actually helps your baby’s brain develop in the womb… and it has almost nothing to do with reading or playing Mozart to your little one.
Shameless book plug: If you want to read a much more extensive collection of research, I highly recommend John Medina’s Brain Rules for Baby. If wish I’d read it when I was pregnant! I read it in my son’s first two years and it has been one of the most highly impactful books I’ve read, period. (*I get no commission, I just really recommend this book.)
The Affects of Birth Weight on Your Baby’s Brain…
It is largely believed that baby IQ is related to birthweight. Normal birth weight is considered 2500 grams, or about 5.5 pounds.
The Department of Psychiatry at the Henry Ford Health Sciences Center in Detroit, Michigan tracked children from birth to age 6 to ascertain whether or not there were any correlations between birth weight and IQ.
The study found that low birth weight children scored an average of 4.9 points lower than normal birthweight children. Low birth weight was judged to be 5.5 pounds, or 2500 grams, or less. The study showed that IQ, as measured by the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, decreased in conjunction with how small the baby was below 5.5 pounds, with the smallest birth weight children having the largest IQ deficit. Children below 4.4 pounds showed the most significant IQ deficits .
The bad news is that this leaves a pretty short window during which mommies can “influence” the intelligence of their fetus… or does it?
Do All Lower Birth Weight Babies Have Lower IQ’s?
Does this mean that all premature babies will have lower IQ’s? Absolutely not!
Studies have shown that in low birth weight babies born prematurely, they are capable of catching up intellectually. According to scientists at the Great Ormond Street Hospital, one influence on brain development in low birth weight babies is a high protein, high-calorie, nutrient-rich diet, which is now standard in all premature babies’ diets.
University of Oslo Professor Kristine Walhovd teamed up with US researchers to investigate the brain development of 628 children and adults between 4 and 21 years old. They found that birth weight influences the size of a person’s cerebral cortex and total brain volume.
Thankfully, Walhovd also finds that avoiding narcotics or intoxicating substances and rich nutrition optimize babies’ brain development .
There’s even more hope for small babies. Head circumference actually plays are role in brain growth and development. Dr. Lisa Smithers explains that while head circumference positively correlates with brain development and IQ, if child’s birth weight is small, healthy weight gain right after birth in the baby’s first month can positively affect your baby’s intelligence. This is likely due to the fact that neural structures for verbal IQ develop immediately in life .
The rule of thumb is that healthy weight gain, a nutritious diet, and strong first-month weight gain will give your baby the best chance at a healthy IQ later in life.
Are All Larger Babies Smarter?
Larger babies tend to have higher IQ’s, but only to an extent. According to John Medina’s Brain Rules for Baby, IQ rises in babies up to about 8 pounds; but at 9 pounds and above, IQ may actually go down slightly due to restriction of oxygen before birth, called hypoxia.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s IQ, the best thing you can do is to flood your body with nutritious foods and gain as much weight as your doctor tells you to. If you have low body fat and your doctor urges you to gain 40 pounds, listen to her! If you are already pretty sturdy and your doctor recommends to gain less weight, there’s a reason for that, too.
You can always find awesome, easy, low time-commitment ways to bounce back postpartum. As a 5’1″ woman who gained about 40 pounds during my pregnancy, I know first-hand that postpartum weight loss doesn’t have to be hard, and should NEVER involve dieting!
Pregnancy and postpartum don’t last forever. You owe it to yourself and your baby to be healthy, happy, and for just this short time… a little overweight 😉
For more parenting tips for you and your traveling family, check out Go Baby Go: An Easy Guide To Baby Travel to save thousands of dollars… and migraines!