Thrive Birth Center Blog

The Mahina Maven Chronicles: Brain Health For Baby and Mama

Welcome to the first installement of The Mahina Maven Chronicles, brought to you by Tessa Mancini Gillen, B.S. Biology, CNC, Herbalist. Tessa will be teaching classes in nutrition for the child-bearing years, as well as the whole family and women transitioning through menoapuse, plus cooking and gardening classes. In this blog series, Tessa will teach us about food that is in season and how to prepare it for optimal health. If you have a question for Tessa, please email me directly at 

Happy Birthing! ~Kelly Gray, Director of the Wisdom and Movement Center

Nettle boosts your metabolism, helps to burn fat and increase energy, puts a little pep in your step with a serotonin surge, and is anti-allergenic to ease seasonal allergies.


Brain Health

Mom’s diet and nutrition during pregnancy is critical for optimal brain functioning of her baby. Seventy percent of the brain’s growth occurs during fetal life, setting a foundation for every aspect of development as an infant, child and adult. Studies have confirmed that the fetal brain is indeed influenced by what the mother eats during pregnancy. Three-quarters of the permanent structuring and development of the brain has already occurred by birth, and the first five years of childhood continue this formation. Several nutrients are vital in this process, but choline (converting to acetylcholine) takes center stage. Our ability to remember, especially long-term memory, depends on brain cells being able to make new connections. One key messenger is involved, a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine has been shown to play a very particular role during brain growth and cognitive development, regulating critical aspects of maturation of the neocortex, hippocampus and cerebellum, all parts of the brain involved in memory and learning. Studies have shown that maternal dietary consumption of choline enhances memory and learning functions in the fetus, changes that endure across a lifespan, enhancing memory and learning function for the rest of your life. Early deficiencies in choline result in memory and cognitive deficits that also persist across a lifespan. Both pregnancy and lactation significantly increase the demand for acetylcholine, and how acetylcholine performs within the fetus is determined by the concentration in the mother.

Highlighted Plant: Stinging Nettle

This plant is an energy changing, brain boosting, super stinging, whole body vitalizer. With usages so broad that virtually every body system benefits, Nettle may be my favorite plant. And for me, that is a bold statement.

For starters, the entire plant can be used, leaving no waste. The roots, leaves, and stems can all be harvested (carefully to avoid the formic acid sting), and the benefits of each seem endless. This stinging sensation contains more protein than any other plant growing in temperate regions and is a vitamin factory. The seeds are highly nutritious containing protein, essential fatty acids, and enzymes. Nettle boosts your metabolism, helps to burn fat and increase energy, puts a little pep in your step with a serotonin surge, and is anti-allergenic to ease seasonal allergies.

But the real reason Nettle is featured today is its connection to acetylcholine. Nettle is one of the very few plant sources that contains this neurotransmitter. One more bonus: it’s safe to drink in pregnancy. Just think, with every sip of this earthy, energy building tea, you are giving your baby a little brain-boosting sip as well. So drink up!
~Tessa Mancini Gillen, The Mahina Maven, B.S. Biology, CNC, Herbalist

1. Albright, Craig. Tsai, Amy. Friedrich, Claudia. Choline availability alters embryonic development of the hippocampus and septum in the rat. Developmental Brain Research.Volume 113, Issues 1-2, 12 March 1999, pg 13-20
2. Garner SC, Mar MH, Zeisel SH. Choline distribution and metabolism in pregnant rats & fetuses are influenced by the choline content of the maternal diet. The Journal of Nutrition. Department of Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC. 1995
3. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science & Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press.2003 pg. 591
4. Zeisel SH. The Fetal Origins of Memory: the role of dietary choline in optimal brain development.