Why Choline is Needed During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

By Madhavi Gupta, MD

 

What is the best vitamin for breastfeeding mothers?

The best vitamin for breastfeeding mothers is likely to be a high-quality prenatal or postnatal multivitamin or multimineral that contains a range of essential nutrients, including folate, iron, choline, and calcium.

Breastfeeding mothers have increased nutritional needs, and a pre- or postnatal multivitamin and multimineral can help ensure that they are getting the nutrients they need to support their health and their baby's health. Because individual nutritional needs vary, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement.

What is choline?

Choline is an essential nutrient for many bodily functions, including the metabolism of fats, the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters, and the maintenance of healthy cell membranes.

It boosts attention and memory, supports prenatal neurodevelopment, promotes cell-to-cell communication, improves gene expression, and helps muscle movement and liver function.


Why is choline essential for breastfeeding?

Choline is essential for breastfeeding mothers because it is a key component of breast milk and is essential for developing the infant's brain and nervous system. Adequate choline intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding has been shown to improve infant cognitive development and memory function (1).

Choline can be found in various foods, including eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and some vegetables. It can also be taken as a dietary supplement, as a single-ingredient supplement, or in a prenatal or postnatal multivitamin, or in a prenatal or postnatal multimineral.

Some evidence suggests that choline intake may be related to milk supply in breastfeeding mothers (2).

 

Choline needs increase during pregnancy and lactation

The increased need for choline during pregnancy and lactation is due to the fact that the developing fetus and breastfeeding infant require choline for proper growth and development.

The adequate intake (AI) for choline during pregnancy is 450 mg per day, and the AI for lactation is 550 mg per day. The AI is the average daily intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97-98%) healthy individuals in a particular age and gender group. However, individual needs may vary, and it is important to speak with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate intake of choline for a particular individual.

 

Does choline make babies smart?

Emerging evidence suggests that choline plays a direct role in cognition and memory, particularly in the hippocampus (3). The hippocampus is a region of the brain that is involved in memory and spatial navigation. The hippocampus is important for forming new memories and retrieving old ones, and it is also involved in spatial orientation and navigation.

Research has shown that choline plays a role in the development and function of the hippocampus. In animal studies, choline supplementation during gestation and lactation has been shown to improve spatial memory and increase the number of new neurons in the hippocampus (4).

In humans, inadequate choline intake during pregnancy has been linked to decreased hippocampal volume and impaired memory function in the offspring. However, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between choline and the hippocampus in humans (5).

 

More on choline, learning, and memory

Choline is an essential nutrient that is involved in the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Neurotransmitters are chemicals released by nerve cells (neurons) to transmit signals to other cells, such as other neurons or muscle cells. Acetylcholine is an important neurotransmitter that is involved in a wide range of functions, including muscle control, memory, and learning.

In the body, choline is converted into acetylcholine by an enzyme called choline acetyltransferase. This process occurs in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Acetylcholine is then released by neurons and binds to receptors on other cells, transmitting signals and enabling communication between cells.

Adequate choline intake supports acetylcholine synthesis and maintains healthy nervous system function.

 

Choline is needed to convert folate into its active form

Some evidence suggests that choline and folate may interact in the body and influence each other's metabolism and function. For example, choline is required to convert folate to its active form, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), in the liver. This conversion is necessary for folate to be used by the body for essential functions.

Folate is particularly important during pregnancy and lactation because the developing fetus and breastfeeding infant require folate for proper growth and development. Adequate folate intake during pregnancy has been shown to prevent certain birth defects, such as neural tube defects, and to support healthy fetal development. Adequate folate intake during lactation has been shown to support infant cognitive development and memory function.

Additionally, folate deficiency has been shown to increase the risk of choline deficiency, and vice versa. However, more research is needed to fully understand the interaction between choline and folate and the potential clinical implications of this interaction. It is important to ensure adequate intake of both choline and folate to support optimal health and function.

 

Choline deficiency

90% of pregnant and breastfeeding mamas aren’t getting enough choline, and most don’t even know it. Experts call it the “forgotten nutrient” – because it’s easy to forget that it exists – yet it plays a critical role in memory, mood, and the repair of your cells.

Most prenatal vitamins contain less than 10% of the RDA. That’s because choline is a bulky, chalky nutrient – making it nearly impossible to add optimal amounts to a tiny prenatal tablet or capsule.

Fortunately, now there’s an easy way to make sure you’re getting enough choline in your daily diet: Mama Bird Mineral Complex includes a full 550 mg of brain-boosting choline – 100% Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) – in every scoop. It also contains 350 mg of magnesium to promote feelings of calm and relaxation + better sleep, calcium to fortify bone health and strength, vitamin D3 for stronger immunity and improved mood, and inositol to support the nervous system and encourage optimal hormone balance. It’s the perfect addition to your prenatal or postnatal multivitamin.


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