Best foods to eat during pregnancy for baby’s brain development


Pregnancy is a time of profound transformation, not only for you but also for the miraculous journey unfolding within you. As you nurture the precious life growing inside, every morsel you consume becomes a building block for your baby’s future, especially when it comes to their brain development.

So, if you’re wondering what are some of the best foods you can eat during your pregnancy for your little one’s brain development, read on our expert-backed guide.

Can babies taste food in the womb?

Did you know that by 13 weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s sucking and swallowing impulses will kick in? They will start swallowing the amniotic fluid at around 21 weeks.

 The area of their brain—the gustatory cortex, which is responsible for their sense of taste—is also developing. Through the amniotic fluid, your little one tastes and smells the food you’re consuming. Another reason to sample as many foods as possible is so that your baby gets maximum exposure to different flavors! 

According to Dr. Samantha Radford (P.h.D.), an exposure scientist with a focus on maternal-child health, and the owner of Evidence-Based Mommy, “If a mother has a broader palate, her baby will be more willing to try new foods after they’re born. This is also true if [the] baby is breastfed; exposure to different flavors through mother’s milk makes a child more interested in trying a wider range of foods.”

Best food for baby’s brain development in the womb

Let’s look at some of the best foods you can consume to aid in a baby’s brain development.

The main micronutrients that aid in brain development include folate, choline, iodine, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. Sometimes, a prenatal vitamin alone does not provide enough nutrients for a baby’s optimal brain development. Women need to focus on including these nutrients from food as well.”

Here are some foods to incorporate into your diet include:

Folic acid or vitamin B9

Folic acid is an important vitamin as it helps the neural tube to develop. In other words, it prevents the occurrence of brain and spine defects. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.

Birth defects of the brain and spine typically occur in early pregnancy ( three to four weeks after conception) even before most women become aware of their pregnancy. 

Therefore, women of childbearing age should get enough folic acid every day to help build new cells even if she is not actively trying to get pregnant.

To get enough folic acid, you can either take a vitamin that contains it or consume foods such as bread and breakfast cereals that contain folic acid.

Other foods that are known sources of folic acid are:

  • Dark green leafy veggies such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli
  • Peanuts
  • Fresh fruits and whole grains
  • Peanuts
  • Liver
  • Eggs
  • Bean
  • Sunflower seeds

Omega 3 fatty acids

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), Omega-3 plays a role in fetal brain and retina development and may help prevent perinatal depression. Additionally, Omega-3 is linked to determining the length of the gestation period.

Per the NIH, women in the United States do not consume enough fish  (the richest source of Omega-3) during pregnancy due to concerns about mercury and therefore, do not get adequate amounts of Omega-3. However, during pregnancy, the need for Omega-3 grows to help support fetal brain and eye development.

During the second trimester, fetal brain development accelerates and stays high during your baby’s first year. Any brain or eye defects that occur due to the insufficient consumption of Omega-3 during pregnancy cannot be reversed with postnatal supplementation.

Therefore, you must consume adequate amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy. By eating no more than one to two servings or 340 grams of seafood a week (to avoid excess mercury), you will get the recommended 200 mg (per day) of Omega-3.


The National Institute of Health states that choline is important for your well-being and your baby’s neural development. It is a water-soluble nutrient that helps develop your baby’s neural tube and contributes to lipid metabolism, cognitive development, and liver function.

Unfortunately, according to the NIH, most pregnant women do not consume the recommended dietary intake of choline which can pose a risk to both fetal and maternal health.

Our bodies do not naturally produce sufficient quantities of choline. During pregnancy the need for choline rises exponentially, therefore, the best way to get enough of it is through food.

Luckily, there are many foods rich in choline, which makes it easily accessible to pregnant women:

  • Eggs – Specifically the yolk. Egg yolk is the richest source of choline (125mg per large egg).
  • Meat – Beef, chicken, and pork are all choline-rich.
  • Fish – Particularly salmon and cod.
  • Dairy – Milk, cheese, and yogurt.
  • Nuts and legumes – Specifically peanuts and soybeans. They are also a rich source of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. 
  • Veggies – Brussels sprouts and broccoli contain choline in smaller quantities than the foods listed above.
  • Grains – Quinoa contains a moderate quantity of choline but also provides fiber and other nutrients.

Vitamin B complex

While maintaining a healthy diet is always important, it is even more vital during pregnancy for your baby’s health.

Vitamin B complex or B vitamins, especially B12, B9, and B6, are crucial for pregnancy nutrition. Not only do B vitamins reduce the risk of birth defects, they also help relieve a few pregnancy symptoms.

All eight B vitamins can be found in good prenatal vitamins (but remember, prenatal vitamins can support a healthy diet, not replace it). The best way to absorb the vitamin B complex is through food.

These eight B vitamins aid in maternal health and strength during pregnancy and naturally reduce the tiredness most women experience during the first and third trimesters.

Here are some natural sources of vitamin B complex recommended by The American Pregnancy Association that help your baby’s brain develop:

Thiamin or vitamin B1 (1.4mg a day)

It is present in –

  • Whole grain pasta
  • Peas
  • Salmon
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Pork
  • Pecans
  • Dried beans
  • Wheat germ
  • Cereals

Niacin or vitamin B3 (18mg a day)

Niacin contributes to your baby’s brain development and helps mothers by reducing nausea, and headaches and improving digestion during pregnancy. It can be found in –

  • Chicken breast
  • Wild salmon
  • Turkey
  • Tuna
  • Tahini
  • Avocado
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Brown rice
  • Bell peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Venison

Pyridoxine or vitamin B6 (25 to 50 mg a day)

Vitamin B6 contributes to fetal brain and nervous system development. It can also help with pregnancy nausea and vomiting. Vitamin B6 can be found in –

  • Garlic
  • Chickpeas
  • Avocados
  • Beans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Prune juice
  • Brown rice
  • Turkey
  • Bananas
  • Chicken
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Hazelnuts

Cobalamin or vitamin B12 (2.6 mg a day)

Vitamin B12 aids in neural tube and spine development and prevents nervous system and spinal cord defects. It is present in –

  • Shrimp
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Milk
  • Cod
  • Soy milk
  • Wild salmon

Apart from these B vitamins the others (B5, B7, and B2) help with maternal and fetal health (besides brain development). B2 contributes to healthy skin and the prevention of preeclampsia in pregnant women while ensuring the healthy development of fetal bones, nerves, and muscles.

Vitamin B5 alleviates the painful leg cramps most pregnant women experience and vitamin B7 helps prevent maternal hair loss and brittle nails during pregnancy.


Antioxidants help develop fetal tissues and cellular membranes of the brain, protecting them from damage.

In other words, antioxidants protect your baby’s brain tissue from damage. Furthermore, antioxidant supplementation helps prevent low oxygen levels in utero which can lead to fetal hypoxia (impaired memory). Therefore, consuming antioxidant-rich foods during pregnancy can help protect your baby’s brain health. 

Food that contains high levels of antioxidants include –

  • Fruits such as bananas, berries, and oranges
  • Legumes such as kidney beans, chickpeas, peanuts, and soybeans
  • Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus


Although nutrition is an indispensable part of your baby’s brain development, it’s equally important to stay physically active.

Rezac further adds, “Research has also found that regular exercise in pregnancy increases fetal heart rate variability, which may benefit brain and nervous system development. The children of women who exercised during pregnancy are born with more mature brains.”

Even a brisk walk or mild aerobic exercise for 30 minutes can help if you’re too exhausted to do a full-blown workout.


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