Choline intake is important for pregnant women.

How Much Choline for Pregnancy?

By: Mia Syn, MS, RD

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

Embarking on the incredible adventure of pregnancy means diving into a newfound awareness about what you're feeding your body and your tiny human in the making. You may be more concerned about what vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you're consuming than ever before.

Choline is one of those essential nutrients that are crucial during the transformative prenatal period to support brain development and the growth of new life. You might not hear about choline intake as often as you hear about folate and omega-3 fats, but it is important in a prenatal supplement. Here is everything you need to know about choline intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

What is choline?

Choline is a water-soluble, vitamin-like essential nutrient that plays many important roles in the body. The body does make some on its own, but not enough to meet your daily requirements and maintain adequate choline levels. Therefore, it is important to focus on choline intake from real food and, when needed, choline supplementation. While choline supplements are available on their own, choline is sometimes added to prenatal dietary supplements.

One important role this essential nutrient plays in the body is contributing to the construction of phospholipids for cell membranes. Cell membranes act as barriers to protect cells from various environmental threats and support various cellular processes. One of those important phospholipids is phosphatidylcholine. Phosphatidylcholine is a structural component in cell membranes and is involved in dietary fat transport and metabolism.

Choline is also used to make acetylcholine, which is an important neurotransmitter—a messenger that transmits signals between nerve cells. Nerve cells use acetylcholine for muscle control, circadian rhythm, memory, cognition and more.

Why take choline for pregnancy?

Choline intake is especially important during pregnancy because the developing fetus and newborn babies require choline for building cell membranes, supporting rapid cell division during growth, transmitting signals between nerve cells, brain-building and more.

In pregnancy, choline intake is particularly important for fetal brain function and brain development. Like folate, choline is involved in supporting the development of the neural tube, which eventually becomes the baby's brain and spinal cord. Choline intake also influences the development of the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory and learning.

Pregnant women can include foods with high choline content in their dietary pattern to help meet their choline intake goals, but it is not always feasible to meet your needs through food alone. This makes maternal choline supplementation a valuable tool for meeting the increased demands of pregnancy and supporting your growing baby.

How much choline should you take during pregnancy?

The adequate choline intake for men ages 19 years and older is 550 mg per day, and it is 425 mg per day for non-pregnant women. Choline intake at that level is assumed to support health, but there is no established RDA for this nutrient yet. For pregnant women, daily choline intake recommendations are higher: at least 450 mg choline daily. Breastfeeding women should aim for at least 550 mg of dietary choline daily.

Pregnant women can meet their choline needs through real food and dietary supplements such as prenatal vitamins. Choline-containing foods include many animal food sources, such as beef (especially liver), eggs, chicken and fish.

Eggs are particularly choline-rich, with the majority of the choline content in the yolk. They make it easy to increase your dietary choline intake before, during and after pregnancy. Support choline levels with egg bites or munch on hardboiled eggs as a snack.

Eggs are nutritional powerhouses, with both the whites and yolks providing protein and B vitamins—however, the yolks are where the majority of the micronutrients reside, including choline, iron, zinc, lutein, and vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Plant-based dietary choline sources include soybeans, potatoes, pomegranates and wheat germ. Quinoa also contains choline, so starting your day with a quinoa breakfast bowl can help support dietary choline intake during pregnancy.

To supplement a balanced diet, it may be wise for pregnant women to choose a prenatal multivitamin that contains choline to support fetal development. It is important to talk with your healthcare provider to ensure your diet and prenatal multivitamins are meeting all of your nutritional needs during pregnancy, including maternal choline intake.

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When should I start taking choline during pregnancy?

The best time to start taking a prenatal supplement is several months before getting pregnant or even trying to get pregnant. Making pregnancy smoothies can also help you get the nutrition you need.

If you are not taking a prenatal vitamin and find out you are pregnant, you should consult a healthcare provider and begin taking a prenatal and choline supplement as soon as you can. Because many fetal developmental issues occur early in a pregnancy, getting adequate nutrition and prenatal choline as early as possible is especially important.

Taking prenatal vitamins is beneficial throughout the pregnancy—even through the third trimester and into breastfeeding. During the third trimester, the baby's brain continues to develop, and choline intake remains important for various processes, including the growth and development of brain cells.

If you are looking for a trusted prenatal vitamin to take before and during pregnancy, look to Life Extension's Prenatal Advantage. This science-based supplement is gluten-free, non-GMO and meets or exceeds the recommended doses of many vitamins and minerals. It also includes important nutrients like choline, the omega-3 DHA, lutein and zeaxanthin for both mom and baby. These nutrients support healthy prenatal brain, eye and nervous system development. Prenatal Advantage also contains folate, a B vitamin that is essential in supporting neural tube health during fetal development in pregnancy. Pregnant women should eat foods fortified with B vitamins and consider supplementing with methylfolate, the active form of B9.

Who else should consider choline supplementation?

Choline is important for pregnant women, but getting enough choline is important for both men and women at every stage of life. Choline supplementation can bolster choline levels, which have been associated with cognitive function in studies. A cross-sectional study of older adults found choline intakes of 187 mg to 400 mg per day were associated with cognitive performance, measured in processing speed, sustained attention, and working memory. The research suggests dietary intake through choline supplementation and food sources may help support cognitive health as we age.

Need nutritional advice? Our women's health quiz can offer personal guidance into your potential supplement needs before, during and after pregnancy.

About the Author: Mia Syn, MS, RD is a national on-air nutrition expert, host of Good Food Friday on ABC Charleston and one of the most recognized and trusted young dietitians in the media. With a master's degree in human nutrition from Columbia University and over 500 TV appearances, she has helped millions of viewers, readers and clients learn and implement healthier, sustainable eating habits.