The Surprising Nutrient You Need While Pregnant

From fighting caffeine cravings to stomaching prenatal vitamins, moms-to-be take great care to make sure everything they put in their mouths helps to keep their growing babies healthy. Unfortunately, despite their efforts, most expectant mothers aren’t getting enough iodine, a mineral that impacts neurological development, according to new research.

The study, conducted by researchers from The University of Adelaide, followed nearly 200 Australian women throughout their pregnancy and six months after giving birth. Although eating bread fortified with iodized salt (a common practice in both the U.S. and Australia) increased levels of the nutrient, most women still had a mild deficiency, says lead study author Vicki Clifton, PhD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The University of Adelaide’s Robinson Institute. Only women who also took a supplement throughout their pregnancy met the World Health Organization’s recommended intake of 220 micrograms of iodine.

Why is the nutrient so important? Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can lead to high blood pressure for mom and can also negatively impact baby’s physical and mental development. While eating iodine-rich foods (like seafood, yogurt, and fortified bread) can boost your intake, the easiest way to get the right amount is by taking an iodine supplement for expectant mothers, says Clifton.

That said, getting too much iodine is also dangerous; it can lead to hypothyroidism in both mom and the little one she’s expecting. So before popping any pills, ask your gyno for a urine test to see if you’re deficient. If your levels are good, there’s no need for a supplement—just keep your diet consistent throughout your pregnancy to ensure you continue getting enough of the nutrient.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from Women’s Health:
What You Need to Know About Home Births
How Your Second Pregnancy Is Different from Your First
3 Steps to Have a Healthy Pregnancy

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Pregnant Women May Not Need Daily Iron Supplements

There are a ton of things to worry about when you’re expecting, but remembering to take an iron pill every single day doesn’t need to be one of them: Taking an iron-folic acid supplement just twice a week—instead of daily—leads to an equally healthy birth weight, growth rate, and possibly even improved cognitive development, suggests a new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia asked more than 1,000 pregnant women in Vietnam to take either daily iron-folic acid supplements, twice-weekly iron-folic acid supplements, or twice-weekly iron-folic acid supplements plus micronutrients. They then measured the baby’s birth weight, how much he or she had grown at six months, and his or her cognitive development at the same time.

While birth weights and growth rates were similar across all groups, cognitive development scores were actually higher for the infants whose mothers took the supplements twice a week. Plus, the women who took the supplements twice a week were more likely to take them consistently than those who took them daily.

Iron is key for getting enough oxygen to both you and your baby, and this can affect fetal development, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine. Plus, not having enough iron in your blood can make you feel more fatigued, which is a big bummer since pregnancy is already pretty tiring.

That said, the supply of iron in your blood doesn’t fluctuate much from day to day, says Minkin, and the results of this study suggest that cutting back to twice-weekly supplements may not have much impact on your overall iron blood count—or, apparently, on the health of your child.

And as for folic acid?  While slashing your intake of the nutrient may not have had any impact on the outcomes measured in the study, Minkin strongly suggests continuing to take supplements for it daily since getting the recommended .4 milligrams each day helps protect your child against neural defects like spina bifida.

One important thing to remember: How much iron you need while you’re pregnant can vary from woman to woman, says Minkin, and can also depend on whether or not you were iron-deficient going into the pregnancy. So whether you’re already pregnant or trying to be, it’s best to talk to your doctor to find out just how much iron you need to be taking—whether it’s from daily supplements or a less frequent dosage.

Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from WH:
Foods to Avoid While Pregnant
How Your Second Pregnancy is Different from Your First
5 Ways Pregnancy Changes Your Body

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Pregnant? Make Sure You’re Getting Enough of THIS Nutrient

It’s a no-brainer that you want to eat well when you’ve got a bun in the oven, but you may not realize how important certain nutrients are: A mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy could have a long-term effect on your child’s brain development, according to a new study published in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Researchers at the Menzies Research Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia looked at the iodine content in the systems of women who attended prenatal clinics. Then, nine years later, the researchers compared this information against the participants’ children’s standardized test scores. Seventy-one percent of mothers were found to have insufficient iodine levels—less than 150 micrograms per liter. On standardized tests, their children scored 10 percent lower in spelling, 7.6 percent lower in grammar, and 5.7 percent lower in English literacy.

Iodine, which the thyroid uses to make thyroid hormone, is important for a baby’s neurodevelopment, says Elizabeth Pearce, MD, associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine, who is unrelated to the study. A severe deficiency in iodine (anything less than 20 micrograms per day) can lead to a number of different neurologic abnormalities, including—in severe cases—intellectual disability, she says. On the other hand, overdosing on iodine might result in hypothyroidism—for both you and your baby. That’s why it’s mission critical for pregnant women to get the recommended amount: 220 micrograms per day if you’re pregnant, and 290 micrograms per day if you’re breastfeeding.

Hitting this sweet spot while you’re pregnant can be tricky. Since iodine isn’t labeled on food packaging, it can be difficult to know exactly how much you’re getting in your diet.

The easiest, most foolproof way to boost your iodine intake? Taking a prenatal multivitamin. Look for one that contains 150 micrograms of iodine, suggests Pearce. You may also want to consider checking the salt you use while cooking to make sure you’re grabbing the iodized version (although you don’t need to actively up your salt intake, says Pearce). Another food source that contains the nutrient: cow’s milk. Some of the iodine that the cows consume in their feeds transfers to the milk, and the dairy industry also uses iodine-containing cleansers to wash off milk equipment, which increases milk’s iodine content.


More from WH:
The 411 on Pregnancy and Depression
5 Ways Pregnancy Changes Your Body
What to Expect When You’re Expecting (After 35)

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Pregnant? Put Down the Coffee

If you have a bun in the oven, you might want to rethink your daily coffee habit: New research shows that drinking too much caffeine while you’re pregnant could result in a lower birth weight for your baby.

Researchers from Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden asked 59,000 pregnant women to complete questionnaires about their health, lifestyle, and diet habits at various stages throughout their pregnancy. Then, during the 22nd week of their pregnancy, they completed a food frequency questionnaire—including how much caffeine they consumed per day. Researchers analyzed the results, as well as data from the Medical Birth Registry of Norway, which contains each baby’s birth weight. What they found: More than 10 percent of participants consumed an excess of 200 mg of caffeine per day (about what you’d get from drinking two cups of coffee). These women were 20 to 60 percent more likely to have a baby who was small for gestational age (SGA). As newborns, SGA babies have trouble staying warm. They’re also more likely to have lower neurodevelopment scores throughout their childhood and to remain small as adults, says Verena Sengpiel, MD, PhD, one of the study authors.

It’s important to note that, while a low birth weight was associated with caffeine intake, that doesn’t prove causation. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, FACOG, an OBGYN and clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine, recommends setting up a pre-pregnancy consultation with your OBGYN if you plan on becoming pregnant. That way, you can map out what kind of new health habits (including reduced caffeine consumption) you may need to establish. If you do decide to cut back on caffeine, don’t go cold turkey. Wean yourself off of it gradually so that you don’t experience withdrawal headaches, suggests Minkin.

One trick to try: Water down your regular cup of joe by pouring yourself a cup of half regular coffee, half decaf.

Still need an energy boost (sans java)? Try these tips and strategies.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from WH:
5 Ways Pregnancy Changes Your Body
Will Your Baby Be Addicted to Junk Food?
Pregnant Yoga: Happy Baby, Healthy Baby
15 Min Belly, Butt & Thigh Workout
What’s the 15-Minute Fat Loss Secret? Find out here!



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Is the Flu Shot Safe For Pregnant Women?

Good news for flu-fearing moms-to-be: a massive new study confirms that the flu shot is perfectly safe for pregnant women, and could even reduce the risk of miscarriage and other complications.

Researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) reviewed the medical records of 113,331 women pregnant in Norway during the 2009-2010 flu pandemic. While 2,794 expectant mothers were diagnosed with influenza, those who got the flu vaccination were about 70 percent less likely to get sick. However, women who contracted the flu while they were pregnant were more almost twice as likely to lose their babies before birth.

While there’s no firm proof that the flu directly causes a woman to miscarry or deliver a stillborn baby, the virus does appear to have a harmful effect on the fetus, according to Allen Wilcox, M.D., head the Reproductive Epidemiology Group at The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and study co-author.

That said, faulty research and hype about vaccine safety has made some pregnant women skeptical about protecting themselves from the flu. “There is no evidence of harm from the vaccine, and plenty of evidence of benefit,” says Wilcox. No wonder the World Health Organization has recommended it for years.

Wilcox says the vaccine can protect pregnant women in any trimester, the sooner the better. To locate the nearest available flu shot and schedule an appointment pronto: download the free TalkTo app or visit, type in “flu shot” and your location, and text the closest pharmacy or doctor’s office. You’ll get a response within minutes.

Here’s everything else you need to know to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from the flu:

Flu Update from the CDC

Could This Be the Worst Flu Season EVER?

Should You Get the New Flu Shot?

5 Times You Should Call in Sick to Work

The Anti-Flu Drug That Might Not Work

Germ-Proof Your Office

6 Ways to Fight the Flu

What Causes the Flu?

Your Body On… The Flu

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock


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