For a woman planning to have a baby, there are many health factors to take into consideration. One that may be overlooked is the mother’s iodine level.
Iodine is a trace mineral in our bodies that is essential for the production and integration of thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism, development and important body functions. Low levels of iodine result in decreased levels of the thyroid hormone t4 or thyroxine.
According to Dr. Lori Nolla, obstetrician with Bothwell OB/GYN Associates, low levels of this hormone in pregnant women can result in permanent intellectual disability in the baby and is associated with higher newborn and infant death rates.
“Iodine is crucial for the production of thyroid hormones, which play a key role in the brain development of fetuses,” Nolla said. “Pregnant women or women planning to be pregnant must have adequate amounts of iodine, particularly in the first trimester, to ensure their baby’s central nervous system develops properly.”
Nolla said our bodies don’t naturally make iodine, so the only way to get this nutrient is through diet.
“Iodine intake in the United States has decreased due to reduced iodine content in dairy products and increased use of noniodized salt in the food industry,” she said. “However, women who are pregnant or planning to be can make simple changes to increase their iodine intake including watching what they eat, taking prenatal vitamins and using iodized salt in place of regular salt.”
The World Health Organization recommends pregnant women should take 250 micrograms of iodine a day during pregnancy and lactation.
“The months leading up to pregnancy are the most important in terms of optimizing iodine levels, so supplementation should be considered before conception,” Nolla said. “When iodine supplements are begun before conception, children show better neurological and developmental outcomes.”
For that reason, Nolla recommends women start taking prenatal vitamins three months before attempting to conceive. In addition to iodine levels, iron, selenium and vitamin A levels should also be monitored because deficiencies can worsen the problems of low iodine.
Goiter, or a swelling of the thyroid glands in the neck, is the most obvious symptom of iodine deficiency. However, even if there are no obvious signs of deficiency, iodine levels should be monitored to ensure the health of the mother and child, Nolla said.
“A mother’s iodine level has a significant impact on a baby’s health,” she said. “Women who are pregnant or planning to be should talk to their doctors about checking and monitoring their iodine to ensure a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.”