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Brain development during pregnancy

Your baby’s brain grows quickly during pregnancy. They have already been learning in the womb through touch, sound, movement and taste.

Protecting your baby’s brain

Looking after your own health during pregnancy helps to protect your baby’s brain development.

While you're pregnant, you should:

  • eat a healthy diet with the right nutrients
  • get the whooping cough (pertussis) and flu vaccines and the COVID-19 vaccine when offered
  • don't smoke, take illegal drugs or drink alcohol. Brain growth starts very early and exposure to these can damage the growing brain
  • avoid or take extra care with certain foods
  • avoid exposure to toxic chemicals
  • take time for yourself to relax and do things you enjoy

Attend your antenatal appointments. Talk to your GP, midwife or obstetrician if you:

  • are taking any medications
  • have very intense or severe negative feelings
  • feel low, angry, upset, or very stressed most of the time


Your baby’s brain can be affected if you get an infection.

During antenatal care, you will have blood tests to test for infectious diseases.

During pregnancy, avoid contact with people and animals with potential infectious diseases. For example, like parvo toxoplasmosis and COVID-19.


Pregnant mothers who get COVID-19 generally do well. But there is data to suggest that there is an increased risk of premature birth and stillbirth.


Related topic

COVID-19 and pregnancy

Zika virus

Zika virus can damage a baby's developing brain. Avoid travelling to countries where there is a risk of Zika virus.

If your travel is essential, talk to your GP or visit a travel health clinic.


Related topic

Zika virus and pregnancy

Bonding can help your baby's brain development

Doing activities to bond with your baby in the womb can help your baby’s brain to develop.

You can do this by:

  • taking time out to relax and stroke your bump
  • talking or singing to them
  • playing music
  • responding to your baby’s movements

Page last reviewed: 29 April 2021
Next review due: 29 April 2024

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 8.