When you find out you are expecting a child, one of the first recommendations your healthcare provider may have told you is to take a prenatal vitamin. However, not all prenatal vitamins are the same, and many lack at least one important nutrient for pregnancy: choline. Choline for pregnancy is becoming as important as folate and vitamin D, for a good reason. But despite its many benefits, more than 90% of expecting moms don’t get enough of it through their usual diet.1
Here, we’ll dive into all you need to know about choline and to get it during pregnancy. We’ll ensure you know how to tell whether you are getting enough, how you can get it from your diet, and how to know whether your prenatal supplement contains enough choline.
What is Choline?
Choline is neither a vitamin nor a mineral. It is an essential nutrient for many bodily functions, including liver and muscle health, cellular structure, DNA synthesis, and a healthy nervous system. While a choline deficiency is rare in people who aren’t pregnant, a deficiency during pregnancy can lead to birth defects. Though your body can make small amounts of it, you must obtain it from your diet for optimal health. Choline is found naturally in foods and also in supplement form.2,11
Are There Risks to Taking a Choline Supplement During Pregnancy?
Choline supplements are safe at recommended dosage and pose no known side effects to you or your baby. There are also no known interactions with medications or other supplements, but you should always discuss what you’re taking with your pharmacist or healthcare provider.11
Why is Choline Important During Pregnancy?
Besides choline’s many important daily roles in your body, it is essential during pregnancy. From keeping the placenta healthy to supporting your baby’s brain development, choline provides many benefits to both mom and baby throughout pregnancy and beyond.
Some of choline’s benefits during pregnancy include the following:
- A decreased risk of neural tube defects in babies, including spina bifida.3
- Encouraging optimal fetal brain development.4
- Providing increased nutrient transport across the placenta.5
- Improved visual memory, attention, and self-regulation in children.5
- Contributing to higher visual memory scores in children of mothers with higher choline levels during pregnancy.6
How Much Choline Do You Need During Pregnancy?
Health experts recommend that women obtain at least 450 mg of choline during pregnancy and 550 mg while breastfeeding. However, recent research suggests supplementation of up to 900 mg daily during pregnancy is safe and may provide more benefits.8,11
Less than 10% of pregnant women meet the recommended adequate intake levels for choline during pregnancy. You can obtain choline from various choline-rich foods, supplements, or a combination. Remember, though, it’s essential to discuss with your healthcare provider how much choline is right for you and whether a supplement may be necessary.7,8,9
Ways to Add Choline to Your Diet
Choline is in various food sources, with animal-based foods such as eggs, organ meat, and poultry having the highest amounts of choline. Plant-based foods such as cruciferous vegetables, soy, and nuts also provide a source of choline in smaller quantities.
Here are some of the top food sources of choline per serving size:10
- Beef liver (100-gram serving): 414 mg
- Chicken liver (100-gram serving): 200 mg
- Egg yolk (1 large): 140 mg
- Cooked ground beef (1 cup): 100 mg
- Skirt steak (4 oz): 51 mg
- Caviar (1 oz): 139 mg
- Cod (100-gram serving): 291 mg
- Cooked broccoli (1 cup): 60 mg
- Raw soybeans (1 cup): 216 mg
- Cauliflower (1 cup): 47 mg
- Tofu (100-gram serving): 106 mg
- Soy milk (1 cup): 56 mg
- 2% milk (1 cup): 40 mg
- Cheese, varies (100 grams): 36-65 mg
Should You Take a Choline Supplement?
If your diet lacks eggs or a variety of choline-rich food sources, taking a prenatal vitamin with choline or a choline supplement during pregnancy to meet adequate intakes would be beneficial. Unfortunately, many prenatal supplements do not contain choline or have minimal amounts since it is a bulky nutrient and often requires multiple pills to fit all of it.
Health experts recommend women get at least 350 mg of choline from supplements during the first two trimesters and roughly 600 mg in the third, especially those who do not consume several whole eggs per week, as egg yolk is among the highest content of choline per serving.8
When looking for a prenatal vitamin, read the supplement label to ensure it contains adequate amounts of choline, or include another supplement if your prenatal is lacking. Before adding any supplements to your routine, however, discuss with your healthcare provider whether you should add a choline supplement during pregnancy and how much you should take.
Eating various choline-rich foods daily throughout pregnancy is essential to ensure you meet adequate intakes. If you cannot meet your needs through diet alone, look for a prenatal vitamin that contains sufficient amounts of choline, as not every prenatal vitamin contains choline. If they do, it’s usually not enough. But remember to consult with your healthcare provider first to ensure your and your baby’s health and safety.