After the whirlwind of a positive pregnancy test, it can feel like everything starts happening at once — announcements, appointments, needing new jeans... and then there are the supplements.
You'd be forgiven for feeling a little bit dazed by all the options. We're here to help.
Let us take you through why getting the right vitamins is important during pregnancy, and why choline is one you definitely shouldn't skip.
What is choline?
Choline (sometimes called vitamin B8) is an essential nutrient we all need in our diets. It can be found in food sources such as eggs, milk, meat, fish and some vegetables.
Our bodies need choline for things like cell production, memory, muscle development, as well as other crucial nervous system and brain functions. Like most vitamins and minerals, our modern diets don't offer us as much choline as the body needs.
Although we can produce choline via our liver, most people aren't getting the recommended daily amount — even in high-income countries that have access to lots of fresh foods.
Aside from what we've mentioned above, getting enough choline during pregnancy can have lots of other potential benefits — for both you and the baby.
What are the benefits of choline?
We've already covered some of choline's main roles in the body, but here's what else this little super vitamin does:
- Influences muscle movement
- Plays a role in pain responses
- May prevent liver disease
- May prevent cardiovascular disease (1)
- Could be linked to some neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia (1)
- Can reduce inflammation linked to conditions like asthma
Why is choline important for babies?
The benefits go beyond us adults, though. In terms of pregnancy and foetal development, adequate choline intake can:
- Prevent birth and neural tube defects (2)
- Support the development of the placenta (2)
- Support spinal cord development
- Have lasting positive effects on infant brain development
- Better support the cognitive functioning of babies with Down syndrome (6)
- Prevent the development of some mental illnesses
- Help children have better self-regulation and attention
Why do need more choline during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, your body is hard at work. You're growing an entire human!
So of course you'll need a little extra support to make sure you and the baby stay as healthy as possible. Nutrients are in high demand as the baby grows, and the way the body metabolises and uses vitamins will change as your pregnancy progresses (2).
Babies are usually born with around three times the level of choline than their mum — they clearly need a lot of it (7)!
Having the right maternal choline levels will have all the above beneficial effects, as well as reduce the risk of birth and pregnancy complications.
Also important: research suggests that if you get sick while you're pregnant, having adequate choline intake can help protect your baby from any negative effects on their development (2).
Can you get enough choline from your diet alone?
Even if you have a really healthy diet, you're probably still not getting all the nutrients your body needs during pregnancy as the baby is taking some of them from you to grow.
Studies suggest that many pregnant women don't meet the recommended dietary intake of choline. In fact, in one study, only about 8.5 per cent of people were tested as having inadequate choline intake (2).
But when is it safe to take choline, and what do you need to know beforehand?
How much choline do pregnant women need?
There's still a bit of debate about what the recommended dietary intake for choline is, but most sources agree that you should take around 450 mg daily while pregnant.
While you're breastfeeding, the recommended amount of choline can increase to up to 550 mg daily (5).
Some medical conditions might put you more at risk of choline deficiency, or toxicity (having too much in your system), so it's best to discuss doses with your doctor before you begin adding choline to your diet (1).
What is the best way to consume choline?
For a while now, we've been taught to be afraid of foods high in saturated fats or cholesterol. Because of this advice, a lot of us unintentionally avoid many foods that contain choline; like red meat or eggs.
You've probably been told to be really careful of undercooked eggs— which is crucial advice.
But restricting certain food sources from your diet altogether might make your choline levels too low, so it's important to have balance (11).
Food sources of choline
You can get choline from foods other than red meat and eggs, like:
- Chicken breast
- Dairy products (milk, yoghurt)
- Legumes and beans
- Sunflower seeds
- Cruciferous vegetables — cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts (11).
The crucial thing here is finding what works for you and your body — if in doubt, ask a health professional for some advice.
What trimester is choline most important?
Alright, you're convinced choline is important — we saw you nodding. Little fun fact though: did you know its importance changes throughout your pregnancy?
According to researchers, maternal choline intake is particularly important during your third trimester and when you start breastfeeding (7). Your third trimester of pregnancy is a time when the baby is growing really rapidly — having enough choline will help support that growth (7).
There are so many newly forming cells and other development going on that your nutrition can make a huge difference.
When you're breastfeeding, so many nutrients are being passed to the baby! Your body is working hard to keep up, so making sure you're on track with supplements (including choline) is really important.
Does choline affect brain development in older children?
We've talked a lot about brain cells, foetal brain development, and other technical stuff this essential nutrient plays a part in while the baby is growing. But it turns out that proper choline intake in pregnancy can have many long-term effects as well.
Studies suggest babies born to people who had adequate intakes of choline during pregnancy perform better on cognitive tests, in comparison to those with lower choline status (7).
Put more simply, choline definitely has a positive impact on your baby's brain! One of the most interesting results from this research was on a task measuring infant information processing speed.
They tested this by showing the babies small animated pictures and measuring their response times. Infants whose mothers consumed more choline showed faster information processing skills (7).
But the really astounding part? When these children were re-tested at seven years old, those whose maternal choline levels were higher still performed better on cognitive tasks.
They also had better-sustained attention skills (9). It's clear that when it comes to being a brain-building nutrition, choline isn't mucking around.
Whether you're already on the market for prenatal vitamin supplements or have only just started your research— make sure you pay attention to the choline content of the ones you check out.
We know pregnancy can be a little overwhelming — but it doesn’t have to be. Kin's Pregnancy Checklist consists of bite-sized checklist items personalised to your pregnancy journey. Approved by fertility specialists and OBYGN approved, you'll feel prepared to tackle each day as it comes and enjoy the process, rather than get lost in it.