Choline is an essential nutrient that plays a role in brain and nervous system function.
Choline helps regulate moods, activate memory and control the body’s muscles and metabolism.
Choline is particularly important for breastfeeding mothers, to ensure the optimal health of both the mother and her growing baby.
Read on to find out more about the importance of choline and breastfeeding.
Importance of choline and breastfeeding for pregnant and lactating women
Adequate choline intake is critical for pregnant women as well as for women who are breastfeeding.
This is because choline influences healthy fetal development and the normal development of brain and nervous system in babies.
Inadequate choline during pregnancy increases the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, an irreversible birth defect involving the development of a baby’s spinal cord in the first month of pregnancy.
Inadequate choline and breastfeeding can potentially affect the normal brain development of infants.
Choline is recognised by the National Academy of Medicine as an essential nutrient that must be obtained from the diet, as the body does not make a sufficient amount on its own.
Risks for infants who do not receive adequate choline intake
During pregnancy, adequate choline intake maintains the health of the placenta. It is important that the placenta remains healthy for the duration of your pregnancy, as it delivers key nutrients to your baby, via the umbilical cord.
Compromised health of the placenta can lead to preeclampsia and preterm labor.
You can read more about preeclampsia in BellyBelly’s article Preeclampsia | Signs, Symptoms And Causes.
An exclusively breastfed baby of a mother who is deficient in the essential nutrient choline is at risk for developmental deficits.
Research into the role of choline in maternal and infant health has found that choline plays a significant role in eye and brain development. Choline deficiencies can have lifelong negative impacts on vision and neurocognitive ability.
Adequate choline in infants has been associated with lowered risk of chronic disease in later life.
Recommended choline intake for breastfeeding mothers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend 550 mg of choline per day for the first year postpartum.
The recommended intake for pregnant women is slightly less, at 400 mg of choline per day.
The recommended daily intake increases for breastfeeding women, so there is no loss to the breastfeeding mother when the choline is passed to her baby through her breast milk.
Most women can get enough choline from an adequate intake of foods rich in choline.
Choline rich foods
Your body naturally makes a small amount of choline, but you need extra choline for optimal health.
You can ensure you have an adequate intake of choline intake by eating a healthy, balanced diet, including foods rich in choline.
Good food sources of choline are:
- Organ meats (in particular, beef liver)
- Whole eggs (in particular, egg yolks)
- Mushrooms (in particular, shitake mushrooms)
- Fish, including salmon, tuna and cod; NB caviar is even higher in choline.
How much choline is in breast milk?
There is limited data available on the choline content of breast milk.
Generally speaking, the concentration of nutrients in the mature breast milk of healthy lactating women, combined with the average volume of breast milk consumed by infants, determines that exclusively breastfed infants will receive an adequate choline intake from breast milk alone.
Should breastfeeding women take a choline supplement?
In addition to following a choline rich diet, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers might need to take dietary supplements.
This ensures their breast milk contains adequate nutrients to support the optimal growth and development of their babies.
Women who are deficient in folic acid or docosahexaenoic acid (vitamin B12) are at greater risk of choline deficiency. Most prenatal vitamins contain all three of these essential nutrients.
You can continue to take your prenatal vitamin supplements while breastfeeding.
For more information, you can read BellyBelly’s article Multivitamins While Breastfeeding | 4 Important Benefits.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you are unsure which dietary supplements are appropriate for your individual circumstances.
Symptoms of choline deficiency
Symptoms of choline deficiency in adults can include the following:
- Memory loss
- Mood changes
- Muscle aches
- Nerve damage.
In severe cases, inadequate choline intake can lead to fatty liver disease.
If you think you could have a choline deficiency, seek advice from your healthcare provider.