If you’re newly pregnant or trying to conceive, we know you’re dutifully taking your prenatal vitamin. After all, it’s made with all of the critical nutrients your growing baby needs. Right? You might be shocked to hear it, but many of the popular prenatal vitamins so aggressively marketed to pregnant women today don’t meet current nutrient levels for choline, folate, vitamin D, magnesium, and iodine, according to both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
All of these nutrients play key roles in your baby’s development, and choline in particular is surprisingly overlooked — not only in prenatal vitamins, but in endless round-ups of “best prenatal vitamins” on popular pregnancy and health websites.
Read on for everything you need to know about choline, the critical nutrient your prenatal vitamin is probably missing.
- Choline was recognized as an essential nutrient in 1998.
- In pregnancy, choline is critical for the proper development of the brain and spinal cord. It also protects against neural tube defects.
- Daily recommendations of choline during pregnancy are 450 mg and 550 mg for nursing mothers.
- Many of the most popular prenatal vitamins on the market don't include adequate amounts of choline, so it's important to shop wisely.
The Role of Choline in Pregnancy
Since you (rightfully) likely assumed that your prenatal vitamin was filling necessary nutrition gaps (uhhh, isn’t that its entire purpose?), this probably comes as a shock. But knowledge is power, and understanding exactly what that nutrition label should include is an important first step toward ensuring both you and your baby are getting all the nutrients you need.
Quick overview — choline is a B-vitamin that was recognized by the National Academy of Medicine as an essential nutrient in 1998. It’s made in minor levels in the human body, but not nearly enough to meet their needs, particularly during pregnancy and lactation. For that, we need to turn to food or supplements. And because the daily recommended intake is 450 mg per day during pregnancy and 550 mg per day if you’re nursing, well, that’s where good prenatal vitamins come in (ahem).
So what does choline do? Quite a bit, actually. Choline helps your baby’s spinal cord and brain develop properly, with data suggesting that it plays a role in better brain and cognitive outcomes. Case in point? When large amounts of choline are consumed during the third trimester, the baby’s information processing speed may be faster than babies born to a parent who did not take in enough choline during pregnancy.
Other research suggests that higher choline intake during pregnancy is associated with modestly boosted child visual memory and attention span at age seven.
Choline also offers protection against neural tube defects, much like folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.
In one study, low maternal dietary choline intake (≤290 mg/day) increased the risk for having a baby with a neural tube defect by approximately two times.
Extra choline is also necessary during early pregnancy for growth of the placenta and maternal organs like the kidneys and the uterus.
Here’s the takeaway — the importance of ensuring you get enough choline during pregnancy really cannot be overstated.
Upping Your Choline Intake
If you’re speed-reading the label on your prenatal vitamin bottle right this second and getting more panicked by the second, stop. Breathe. Yes, you might consider switching to a prenatal vitamin that contains appropriate levels of choline. But in the meantime, you can also make a point of eating foods that serve as good sources of choline, which include egg yolks, beef, chicken, cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, and peanuts.
So make yourself some scrambled eggs and order some Beli prenatals. We took a clean, science-backed approach to developing the most complete prenatal vitamins for pregnancy and beyond. Formulated with high-quality iron and TRAACS minerals that are easier to absorb, plus appropriate levels of all the nutrients you and your growing baby need, this is truly complete nutrition. Pregnancy is a wild ride, and knowing your prenatal has you covered in every way means one less thing to worry about.