Boost Your Baby’s Brain: The Surprising Link Between Mom’s Diet and Smarter Kids

It’s no secret that parents want their children to be smart, successful and excel in various aspects of life. When it comes to giving your child the best start in life, one key element stands out: nutrition. Studies have shown that incorporating certain nutrients into a mother’s diet can influence their child’s cognitive development and provide long-term benefits.

##The Power of Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have been found to play a significant role in brain development. Research conducted at the University of California Santa Barbara and the University of Pittsburgh analyzed the fatty acids in mothers from over 24 countries and discovered that children who were breastfed from mothers with higher amounts of DHA in their milk had better test scores and overall academic performance.

DHA is primarily found in fish, nuts, and seeds. When a breastfeeding mother consumes these foods, more DHA enters her breast milk. The scientists found that DHA levels accounted for roughly 20 percent of the difference in test scores among various countries.

##Balancing Omega-6 Fats

While omega-3s, and more specifically DHA, are beneficial for cognitive development, the study also found that high levels of omega-6 fats in a mother’s milk can have the opposite effect. Omega-6 fats, which are mainly found in vegetable oils such as soy and corn, were linked to lower test scores in children.

The research indicated that both the positive effects of DHA and the negative effects of omega-6 fats accounted for up to 50 percent of the differences in test scores among various regions. The benefits of DHA were diminished in areas where breastfeeding mothers consumed large amounts of omega-6 fats.

Researcher Steven Gaulin explains the importance of Omega-3 fatty acids, saying, “Human intelligence has a physical basis in the huge size of our brains — some seven times larger than would be expected for a mammal with our body size. Since there is never a free lunch, those big brains need lots of extra building materials — most importantly, they need omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. Omega-6 fats, however, undermine the effects of DHA and seem to be bad for brains.”

##Incorporating Omega-3s and Reducing Omega-6s in Your Diet

For breastfeeding mothers who want to incorporate more omega-3 fatty acids and DHA into their diet, there are several great food choices:

  1. Fish: Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel are some of the best sources of omega-3s. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consume 8-12 ounces of fish per week, according to the FDA.

  2. Nuts and Seeds: Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts contain high amounts of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is an omega-3 fatty acid that can be converted into DHA by the body.

  3. Omega-3 Fortified Foods: Some brands of eggs, yogurt, and milk are fortified with omega-3s, making them convenient options for adding to one’s diet.

To reduce the consumption of omega-6 fats, consider making the following changes:

  1. Cook with oils low in omega-6s, such as olive oil, instead of vegetable oils like soybean or corn oil.

  2. Limit processed and fast foods, which can be high in omega-6 fatty acids.

  3. Be mindful of packaged snacks, salad dressings, and mayonnaise, which often contain high levels of omega-6s.


Nutrition plays a crucial role in a child’s cognitive development, and by incorporating omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA) into a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding, children can reap the benefits of improved academic performance. On the other hand, reducing the consumption of omega-6 fats can minimize the negative impact on a child’s cognitive abilities. By making small dietary changes, parents can help set their child on a path toward greater cognitive success.