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Your Babys Developing Brain Series I


How Your Mental Health During Pregnancy
Programs Your Babys Developing Brain


Brain & Life Publishing

Platos Insight: How Physical Exercise Boosts Mental Excellence
Fitness Powered Brains: Optimize Your Productivity, Leadership and
A healthy mind in a healthy body.
Roman poet Juvenal
Copyright 2017 by Chong Chen, PhD
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction of any part of this book may take place
without the written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief
quotations embodied in book reviews and other educational and research uses
permitted by copyright law.
ISBN 978-1-9997601-8-2 E-book
ISBN 978-1-9997601-9-9 Paperback
Brain & Life Publishing
27 Old Gloucester Street, London, U.K.
Printed in the United Kingdom. First Printing, 2017
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This series was originally written for my family and friends. Given my
training in medicine, psychiatry, and brain science, they had long been asking
me what science says about pregnancy and parenting. For instance, how to
boost a babys brain development? How can one raise a genius? Is there
anything parents can do during pregnancy to ensure a healthy, intelligent, and
happy child? To answer their questions, I decided to do extensive research by
myself. After all, I am a scientist. Now, after over six years of research, I
have finally completed this comprehensive report.

My primary interest is brain development. There are already many popular

books on how to promote the physical health of babies but brain
development, in contrast, is only a recent scientific topic. Our brain
determines our intellectual, emotional, and social functioning. The latter
defines who we are. (As Rene Descartes put it, I think, therefore I am.
Thats it.)

I have gone through all the medical training in gynaecology (the medical
field dealing with female reproductive systems), obstetrics (pregnancy and
childbirth) and pediatrics (the care of infants, children). Yet, I myself was
astonished by the results of my research. Parents health and behaviors,
which may seem subtle to themselves, exert a powerful and lost-lasting
impact on their infants developing brain and some of that impact persists
well into adulthood. Consequently, I feel that the results of my research
should be available to every parent.

Then comes this series, which Id like to call Your Babys Developing
Brain. The first three volumes of this series focus on the period of
pregnancy. They are about what parents can do during pregnancy to protect
and boost their babys developing brain. This first volume focuses on the
psychological health of the parents during pregnancy. The second volume
introduces a healthy maternal lifestyle, such as proper nutrition and sleep.
The third volume focuses on antenatal education or taegyo, i.e., educating
babies in the womb. I have planned more volumes on postpartum parenting.
If you want to get a notification when a new volume is released, please sign
up for my newsletter on
Table of Contents
Praise for Psychology for Pregnancy
1. An Enriched Environment Is the Key to Optimal Development


2. Stress
3. Pregnancy Anxiety
4. Pregnancy Blues
5. Anger
6. The Father Matters During Pregnancy

7. A Primer on How to Manage Emotions

8. Positive Psychology
9. Partner Support
10. Exercise
11. Mindfulness
12. Music
1. An Enriched Environment Is the Key to Optimal
If you want me to summarize the fundamental principle of parenting in one
sentence, it will be like this:

Trying every effort to give your child an enriched environment.

Enriched means rich, nourishing, and stimulating. Environment refers to

that of the physical (including physiological) and psychological place under
which the child thrives. This principle, applicable to both humans and
animals, has been supported by hundreds of studies published in the last half
of the century. This principle is also how governments and educational
institutes cultivate talented children and youth. Even the most gifted need an
enriched environment to fulfill their potential.

Surprisingly, this principle holds true even when the child is in the womb,
otherwise referred to as prenatal development. The womb is the environment
or more specifically the physiological environment of the fetus. It is how the
maternal health during pregnancy plays a pivotal role in determining the
fetuss development. Not only the maternal lifestyle (for example, food,
liquid, and medication), but also her psychological state matters. Both change
the maternal metabolism and affect the developing fetus through the placental
connection. As such, anything that the mother is exposed to in the external
environment affects the developing fetus. For instance, excessive
consumption of alcohol by the mother predisposes the fetus to fetal alcohol
syndrome. Any form of maternal stress can hinder effective fetal
development. The stress causes physiological changes in the mothers body
that harbors the developing fetus.

Pregnancy is a critical period. The fetus in the womb, as a pure receiver,

has no control over its environment. The latter is determined by the mother
(and her partner, family, etc.). The mothers health shapes the physiological
environment of the fetus. The physiological environment ranges from
nutritional, to neurotrophic, to neuroendocrinological, to immunological. The
fetus must, by changing its own body and brain, adapt to the environment its
mother provides, whether the environment is enriched or impoverished.
Furthermore, the fetus experiences remarkably rapid growth, which makes
pregnancy the most sensitive period for development. The fetuss adaptation
to the maternal environment exerts a powerful and long-lasting impact on
later development. The impact is still significant at early adulthood; it ranges
from the physical and psychological, to the social domains. Given an
enriched, nourishing and stimulating environment, the infant will grow to
become healthy and thrive. Given an impoverished, stressful and toxic
environment, the infant will struggle and wither. This phenomenon is known
as fetal programming and the developmental origins of health and

Multiple Micronutrients Supplementation

During Pregnancy Promotes Infant
Cognitive Development
In February 2017, in the journal Lancet Global Health, public health
specialist Anuraj H. Shankar at Harvard University published a report on the
benefits of multiple micronutrients supplementation during pregnancy.
Micronutrients, despite being required in only tiny amounts, are essential for
the normal physiological function of pregnant mothers and for the normal
growth of the fetuses. Deficiencies of micronutrients during pregnancy are
particularly common.

In this study, throughout pregnancy until three months postpartum, half of

the pregnant mothers received supplementation of iron and folate acid, while
the other half received multiple micronutrients supplements (MMS) which
contained not only iron and folate acid but also retinol, vitamin D, E, B1, B2,
B6, B12, ascorbic acid, niacin, zinc, copper, selenium, and iodine. Compared
to children born to mothers who received just iron and folate acid, children
born to mothers who received MMS exhibited superior procedural memory
when tested at the age of 9-12 years. Procedural memory underlies the
learning of perceptual, motor, and cognitive skills. The effect size of the
benefit was 0.11, which was estimated to equal that by half a year of school
education. Worldwide, almost one in two pregnant mothers is anemic; this
particular study also looked at the benefit of MMS in the children of anemic
mothers. In children born to anemic mothers, compared to only iron and
folate acid, MMS improved their general intellectual ability as evaluated by
an IQ test at age of 9-12 years. The effect size was 0.18, which was
equivalent to almost a full year of school education. MMS given to the
pregnant mother provides the fetus with more nutrients, which forms an
enriched environment. This enriched environment nourishes the babys
developing brain to reach its full potential.

We can optimize the physical state of the mother through this kind of
nutritional intervention. However, the maternal physical state is also
substantially affected by her psychological state. Below, I will show you how
and to what extent the psychological state of the mother influences the
development of the fetus.

Maternal Psychological State During

Pregnancy Has a Profound Impact
Doctors, midwives, nurses and researchers often notice that babies differ
even at the beginning of their lives. In the first few days, weeks, even to
months, some cry for no reason while others are more secure and cry less.
Many attribute this difference to genes. But recent scientific research
suggests this difference may be largely attributed to maternal psychological
health during pregnancy. Research in medicine, psychology, and brain
science in the past half century indicates that maternal psychological state
during pregnancy profoundly affects the infants later development. As
psychologist Christine Dunkel Schetter at UCLA has stated in her 2010
review Psychological Science on Pregnancy published in the journal
Annual Review of Psychology, It is becoming clear to most scientists that a
mothers psychological state in pregnancy has far more impact on her childs
subsequent development and health than ever thought before. You will see
the robust evidence of this in the following chapters of this book.

This critical early environment includes not only during pregnancy, but
also that following pregnancy. The postnatal environment that a newborn
infant is exposed to in the early years of life is as important as that during
pregnancy. It has been estimated that compared to their peers with non-
depressed mothers, children born to depressed mothers or mothers who
become depressed postpartum have 3-22 lower IQ points and have more than
10% lower academic scores. They are also roughly 3-fold more likely to
become obese and are at a 4 times higher risk of depression through or by the
age of 16. Stressed, anxious, and depressed mothers are preoccupied with
their own concerns and problems, and often fail to provide an enriched
environment for their infants. An impoverished postnatal environment
prohibits the development of the infant in almost every measurable

What Does All This Mean? Your

Psychological Issues Compromise Your
Babys Full Potential
As will be discussed in detail later, the developmental outcomes of poor
maternal psychological health are quite heavy or even scary. Furthermore,
despite scientific evidence, these developmental outcomes of poor maternal
psychological health may seem overstated to some mothers. An Australian
mother shared with me her own story. She suffered from lots of stress and
mild depression throughout her pregnancy, but her baby, now 21-months old,
was fine. Thats great. However, fine actually means not at its best

Psychological stress and depressive symptoms reduce the blood levels of

the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The maternal blood levels of
BDNF correspond with that of the fetal brain and BDNF is important for the
survival and growth of neurons. Thus, high levels of stress and depression
will reduce the levels of BDNF in the fetal brain, which compromises its
optimal development. Differently put, even if your baby looks fine, if you
have suffered from high levels of psychological issues during pregnancy,
your baby may not be at his/her best potential and you had better do
something to compensate for that.

A Warm Childhood Is Essential to Lifetime

The observation that early environment is critical has been excellently
demonstrated by one of the longest-running and most exhaustive studies of
development in history, the Harvard Grant Study. Starting from 1938, the
Harvard Grant Study followed 268 college men at Harvard throughout their
adulthood, career, marriage, parenthood, and grandparenthood until now, of
who the participants (those still alive) are in their nineties. Detailed analysis
showed that a warm childhood, with more love from parents, was one of the
most significant factors in predicting these mens physical and mental health,
and lifetime successes at work and at home.

Love is the central drive for parents to create an enriched environment for
their child. Interestingly, the father and mother seem to have distinct
influences on the offspring. In the Harvard Grant Study, a warm relationship
with the mother was associated with higher IQ and class rank in college,
more effectiveness at work, higher income and mental competence in later
life. A warm relationship with the father was associated with better mental
health during young adulthood, a better marriage, more enjoyment of
vacations and play, and better adjustment to life after retirement.

To read the rest of this chapter and this book, get your copy now.