Understanding Fetal Brain Development

Understanding Fetal Brain Development

Fetal brain development is just one of the amazing things that’s going on while your body’s cooking up a bun in the oven.

It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks into a pregnancy, when your baby is about the size of a chocolate chip, that so much is going on!

In just 40 weeks, it’s all happening: organs form and develop, the heart begins to beat, limbs form, your baby’s face develops, and so much more.

But what about fetal brain development, specifically?

In this article: 📝

  • How can I improve my baby’s brain during pregnancy?
  • How does the brain develop in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy?
  • When is brain development in a fetus?
  • When does a fetus have brain activity?
  • What is the greatest risk to a developing fetus brain?

How can I improve my baby’s brain during pregnancy?

To encourage healthy fetus development, you should take care of your body first.

This includes lifestyle changes such as:

You can also encourage healthy development by taking vitamins such as folic acid.

Stay out of hot tubs, which may raise your temperature and could pose harm to your baby during the essential first trimester.

With a few lifestyle changes, you should be on your way to developing your own little genius. 🤓

How does the brain develop in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy?

Those first 20 weeks are some of the most important in your child’s development – in particular, the first trimester.

Generally, women are advised to wait until the end of the first trimester to tell people that they’re pregnant, as this is the riskiest stage for pregnancy loss.

By week five of your pregnancy, when your baby is smaller than a sugar snap pea, your body will start to release higher levels of the hCG hormone.

This is often the stage when women find out they are pregnant, as the presence of this hormone can show up as a positive pregnancy test.

Between weeks three and six, your baby will start to develop a heart and circulatory system.

By week six, the neural tube alongside your baby’s back will close, helping to develop the baby’s brain and spinal cord.

By week eight to ten, the cerebrum begins to develop, here reflexes appear for the first time.

Limbs will start forming from around week four but will not take on the shape of fingers and toes we recognize until weeks six to seven.

By week 20, your baby’s brain is in charge of other functions, such as moving and hearing.

When is brain development in a fetus?

Technically, the brain doesn’t fully develop until around age 25

But in terms of your baby’s initial brain development, that tends to happen by the third trimester, at which point it will have increased by 30 times its size! 🤯

The development of your baby’s brain is marked by various functions it can perform.

When does a fetus have brain activity?

As early as week four in pregnancy, your baby’s brain will begin to develop three primary brain vesicles:

  • Prosencephalon: This area later goes on to develop the cerebrum, which will be responsible for the regulation of your baby’s temperature, hunger and thirst, sleep, and emotions.
  • Mesencephalon: This area later goes on to develop into the midbrain responsible for motor movements, along with auditory and visual processing.
  • Rhombencephalon: This area later goes on to develop into the cerebellum and medulla, which is responsible for your baby’s motor control.

When does a fetus develop a brain function to power the entire body?

So, how do these brain areas affect your baby’s general development?

By the first trimester, your baby’s brain is relatively light and will be connecting with neurons, which will help the baby to learn movement.

By the second trimester, the brain becomes responsible for breathing, swallowing, and sucking.

These are all affected by the cerebellum.

When the third trimester comes around, the brain will undergo a huge growth spurt, weighing in at around 11 ounces.

This is when motor control comes into play, so expect to feel more finger and toe wiggling, as well as stretching and kicking.

What is the greatest risk to a developing fetus brain?

Without proper brain development in utero, there are birth defect risks, such as anencephaly.

This is when the brain or skull does not develop in the womb and can lead to premature death.

A lot of these defects are unavoidable and due to genetic factors.

Fetal brain development problems can be genetic or environment-based, so it’s important to understand how you can impact your baby’s health.

As above, you should avoid all intoxicants that would pose a risk to your general health, such as smoking, drugs, and alcohol.

But your baby is also susceptible to other risks, such as infections.

If you work in a hazardous environment such as a farm, factory, laboratory, or hospital, you should reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals or radiation.

Other infections that can harm your baby’s fetal development include:

  • Rubella (German measles)
  • Varicella virus (chicken pox)
  • CMV (similar to chicken pox and herpes)
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Syphilis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Genital herpes
  • Infections transmitted by animals (cats, sheep, pigs).

You can test for many of these early on in your pregnancy, but the best thing you can do is to practice good hygiene and, where possible, keep up with your vaccinations.

For example, toxoplasmosis is often caused by eating contaminated, undercooked meat or can be picked up in cat litter trays.

Preventing risks

You can also encourage healthy fetal development by taking folic acid to support spinal and brain growth.

Likewise, omega-3 fatty acids form part of a healthy diet and can help to promote healthy synapse development.

You can find these in salmon, avocados, and walnuts.

Whichever stage you’re at in your pregnancy, from conception through to the last trimester, you’ll likely have thousands of questions.

Join Peanut for support, guidance, and advice.


Close accordion
Popular on the blog
Trending in our community