Eating This Food During Pregnancy Can Boost Your Kid’s Attention Span

Hint: It’s full of omega-3 fatty acids.
ByLaurie Ulster
Contributing Writer
Oct 2019
man cooking over stove in kitchen
Photo: Silvia Jensen / Getty Images

Moms-to-be are always wondering what they can do during pregnancy to give baby’s health and development an added boost. And sometimes, those things can be pretty simple. (Music to your ears, right?) If you want to help bolster your child’s attention span later in life, for example, new research says to eat more seafood!

The study, which was recently published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found an association between eating a seafood-rich diet early in pregnancy and better attention capacities in kids.

Scientists from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health looked at over 500 mother-child pairs, starting in pregnancy until the kids were 8 years old. Moms filled out detailed food questionnaires while they were pregnant as well as when their kids turned one, 5 and 8. At age 8, the kids were assessed by a computer-based neuropsychological test to determine concentration and attention span, looking specifically at not only how many of their answers were correct but also how quick they were to respond.

The results? Moms who ate seafood regularly in their first trimester had kids with higher scores—especially the moms who either ate a variety of seafood or a lot of fatty fish. In comparison, children of moms whose pregnancy seafood diet involved mostly canned tuna or shellfish had lower scores.

And it wasn’t just the type of seafood that made a difference—it also mattered when during pregnancy women loaded up on fish.

“The consumption of seafood during the first trimester of pregnancy had a greater effect on children’s attention capacity than the consumption of seafood later in pregnancy or at five years of age, by which time some neurodevelopment processes have already been completed,” said the lead author of the study, Jordi Júlvez.

It makes sense. Baby’s brain development largely takes place during pregnancy, the report points out, and essential nutrients such as DHA and EPA are the main omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids involved in neurological development. Wonder what foods are particularly rich in DHA and EPA? You guessed it—seafood.

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The study did take into account the role of genetics in a child’s attention capacity. It found that kids with a particular genotype that’s been associated with metabolizing lower levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids “had worse attention scores if their mothers had not eaten much seafood during pregnancy," Júlvez said. “But their outcomes improved if their mothers consumed more seafood.”

A word of warning: Not all seafood is safe for pregnant women to eat. Experts recommend avoiding raw fish entirely (sorry, sushi-lovers) as well as types of fish known to have high mercury levels, including swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Read more about seafood safety during pregnancy here. Bon appétit!

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