Prenatal Vitamins During Pregnancy and Postpartum: Choline
By Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT
Choline is categorized as a B-vitamin and plays an important role in the human body during every lifecycle stage. However, during pregnancy alone, data suggests only 8% of pregnant people meet the recommended intake levels.
The Institute of Medicine’s recommended adequate intake of choline is 450 milligrams a day for pregnant people and 550 milligrams a day for lactating people. However, a study evaluating the top 25 prenatal vitamins found that none contained the daily recommended choline intake for a pregnant/postpartum person, and over half contained none at all. While experts agree in its importance, fitting that much choline into a small prenatal vitamin is challenging (it’s bulky!).
Understanding what is choline good for is continuously evolving; however, research consistently supports the importance of choline in the diet of pregnant and lactating people. A few findings regarding the benefits of choline include:
- Brain Development: Adequate choline intake during pregnancy has been directly linked to better brain and cognitive outcomes for little ones, including faster information processing speed and modestly better visual memory and attention span, when tested at age 7
- Cognition: Choline intake is associated with higher memory performance in adults, and resistance to cognitive decline
- Lactation: Breastmilk choline levels are dependent on maternal choline intake, and the recommended intake is 550 mg/day during this stage for brain support and development
- Neural Tube Development: Data is now suggesting that choline – in addition to other nutrients such as folate, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12 – plays a role in the development of the neural tube
- Preeclampsia: During pregnancy, choline intake has been shown to help reduce the risk of developing preeclampsia and optimize placental function
- Women’s Health: Data is only emerging, but studies suggest choline can help maintain a woman’s immune function and intestinal health
Some data suggests that there may be benefits in consuming choline beyond the 450-550 mg recommendation. Just don’t go too overboard – the National Institute of Health has set the tolerable upper intake levels of choline at 3,000 mg for pregnant people and 3,500 mg for lactating people (meaning that this amount is the absolute maximum recommended for consumption per day).
Looking for more sources of choline? Beef liver and egg yolks contain some of the most choline per serving, or you can take choline bitartrate (a choline supplement). Find a full list from the National Institute of Health of foods with choline milligrams per serving.
Disclaimer: The information provided on this site is for educational purposes only, and does not substitute for medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or healthcare provider related to medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.
Lauren Manaker is the Leto Foods Nutrition Advisor. She is an award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist, certified lactation educator-counselor, and book author. She specializes in women's health and holds a position on the executive committee of the Women's Health DPG of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Lauren earned nutrition degrees from the University of Florida, Rush University, and University of California, San Diego. Follow her at @LaurenLovesNutrition on Instagram.