The Vital Pregnancy Nutrient You May Not Be Getting Enough Of
If you're expecting or trying to conceive, it's likely that you've heard about the importance of folate during pregnancy and even before pregnancy. If you're taking your daily prenatal vitamin, way to go, mama! You're probably getting the folate you need for building a healthy baby. But did you know that there is another important nutrient you need during pregnancy and lactation that isn't in most prenatal vitamins?
It’s called choline, and it’s a micronutrient that's very important during pregnancy and breastfeeding. If you've never heard of choline, you aren't alone. It's estimated that 90-95% of pregnant women don't get the recommended 450 mg/day of choline during pregnancy. But why haven't you heard of it?
For one thing, there isn't a whole lot of research on choline yet. The Institute of Medicine only recognized choline as an essential nutrient in the late 1990s, and the first time choline was called out publicly as a nutrient Americans don't consume enough of was in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. So it hasn't exactly been in the spotlight.
Secondly, our bodies can make some choline. But the amount that our bodies produce isn't enough to meet our needs, which are higher during pregnancy and lactation. That means we need to get the rest from food.
Why is choline so important? Besides its role in converting food to energy (which you could probably use more of right now if you're carrying a little one), supporting your memory (hello, pregnancy brain!), and heart health, choline is especially important during pregnancy and lactation. Choline is passed from mom to baby during pregnancy, and can play a role in preventing neural tube defects. It's also key for baby's brain development during infancy and early childhood, so you still need it after baby arrives, especially if you're breastfeeding, to help baby’s brain develop normally.
So, now the burning question: where do we get choline in our diets? Choline is found mostly in animal foods. Beef, eggs (found in the yolk, so don't skip it!), chicken and fish are all good sources. It is also found in some plant foods, like edamame, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and wheat germ. Try to incorporate these foods into your diet on a daily basis. You’ll need to aim for a variety of them to get the 450 mg you need daily in pregnancy and 550 mg you need if you’re breastfeeding.
Not a meat-eater, or despise vegetables? A supplement that contains choline might be a good idea. Your doctor or dietitian can recommend one that will help give you the energy you need during this special time and help fuel baby’s development.