Not that I’ve experienced this first hand, but when we were expecting our first (and second) child, my wife frequently complained of being forgetful and a bit scattered, and attributed it, often jokingly, to be pregnant. As any mom or dad will attest to, the rigors of being an expectant or new parent involve hours of worry, anxiety, and concern, not to mention severe sleep deprivation and a complete surrendering of one’s personal time and space. In light of these facts, I went out of my way to be understanding, compassionate, and helpful, even if I was undergoing similar experiences, albeit to a much lesser degree (I didn’t have to breast feed every two hours).
Well, as it turns out, scientists are gaining a better understanding of how this condition has a legitimate biological basis, and it may adversely affect the health of the mother and child. Referred to as pregnancy brain, it is characterized by a mother’s memory loss and forgetfulness, and some experts believe that it may signal a deficiency in essential fatty acids (EFA).
The brain, after all, is composed of fat, and numerous studies have found that the consumption of EFAs (omega 3s) has an impact on mental health and development. Nutrition experts also agree that these healthy fats are largely absent from the standard American diet. Developing fetuses and breastfeeding newborns depend on their mothers to get these fatty acids, further depleting Mom's reserves. It stands to reason that women are prone to EFA deficiencies.
If these shortages are not attended to, significant health consequences may result for moms and babies. In fact, deficiencies in EFA have been implicated in several developmental concerns, especially difficulties in learning, behavioral issues that include ADD (attention deficit disorder), and neural and immune related issues. For mothers, not getting enough EFA has been linked to depression and as well as liver and kidney abnormalities and skin problems.
Research has also revealed that consumption of EFAs helps to reduce the risk of other conditions, including atherosclerosis, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and joint pain.
We can synthesize some EFAs from our diets, but there are some that our bodies cannot make, and we have to obtain them directly from the foods we eat. These are linolenic and linoleic acid, which are key components of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
While getting enough EFAs can be accomplished through dietary supplements, there are many foods that are rich in EFAs, especially fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans. Fresh vegetables are also good source, as are legumes and whole grains.
If you are expecting a child and are concerned about EFAs in your diet, speak with your doctor. To find out more about the dietary guidelines for EFAs, visit the homepage for the Food Pyramid. For more information about EFAs and children, visit the website for Kid’s Health.