Back in the pre-Bean era, I thought that baby brain was a mental state of distraction. Of course you can't concentrate at work! You have an adorable baby waiting for you at home. And wouldn't you rather be home playing with your adorable baby than planning out a stupid cloning scheme on GCK? Of course you would.
But no. Baby brain isn't just a state of being distracted and sleep deprived. It's an actual state of decreased mental acuity. I can remember returning to work when the Bean was just three months old and having to give lab meeting the following week. I could barely speak. I would rack my brain for words like "sensitivity" or "release". Frankly, it was embarrassing.
Recently, Husband heard a seminar given by Bruce Ames. Ames was giving a seminar on his recent public health work looking at nutritional deficits and human health. One of the classes of nutrients that Ames discussed was Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been all over the news (and your food labels) of late. From cardiovascular health to the treatment of mood disorders, Omega-3s are the current darlings of the pharmaconutrition world. Why are they important?
Omega-3s, including ALA, DHA, and EPA, are important structural components in building cell membranes. In particular, Omega-3s are in very high concentrations in the brain, with DHA prominent as THE major fatty acid of neural tissue. Noteably, long-chain Omega-3s like DHA and EPA are thought to be important in brain and organ development in newborns.
The best source of dietary Omega-3 fatty acids is salt-water fish. Unfortunately, most Americans do not incorporate salt-water fish into their diet at the recommended frequency (2 servings per week). In addition, pregnant and lactating women are often advised against incorporating too much fish into their diets for fear of mercury contamination.
Benisek, Shabert, and Skornik (2000) report that pregnant and lactating women in the United States consume an average of 54 mg of DHA daily. An expert panel convened by The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids made the recommendation that pregnant and lactating women should consume 300 mg of DHA daily (Simopoulos et al., 1999)...The level of DHA in breast milk is directly proportional to DHA in the maternal diet.
Meta-analysis of some old studies of Omega-3 supplementation has been inconclusive, but the studies are suggestive that supplementation of Omega-3s during the third trimester and during lactation has a positive impact on the cognitive development of children. For this reason, formula makers have started producing baby formulas with added DHA, with the first formulations of this hitting the market back in 2002 (though I'd like to note here that getting your DHA-supplemented formula costs about 25% more... formula makers are continuing to produce and sell formula without DHA).
How does this all relate to my tofu brain?
Ames pointed out in his talk a recent paper in which the authors monitored the levels of long chain Omega-3s (specifically DHA) in red blood cells in both lactating mothers and their infants. The authors found that over the course of the 4 month study, DHA levels decreased in the lactating mothers, while DHA levels remained constant in the nursing newborns. Ames went on to note other anecdotal evidence (for which I have no references to offer) that DHA and other Omega-3s are being shunted by the nursing mother to her rapidly growing newborn. He jokingly(?) suggested that this could be responsible for the notorious decrease in mental acuity experienced by mothers of newborns, and recommended that breastfeeding mothers supplement their diet with Flax Oil to increase their dietary Omega-3s.
I've been taking Flax Oil since my second trimester, but have recently increased my daily intake. Time will tell if Bruce Ames is right, that the Bean is sucking my brains out directly through my boobs, leaving me with a crumbling pile of mushy tofu.
*Note, I am not a medical doctor, yada yada yada.
Edited to add: Fish oil appears to be a much richer source of DHA than Flax Oil, which is primarily ALA. Fish oil, then, may be a better supplement for nursing moms.