Iodine during pregnancy: Are you getting enough?

Iodine During Pregnancy

Around the world, 18 million babies are born mentally disabled every year because of maternal iodine deficiency. While iodine deficiency is rare in the U.S., there are a few things you should know to protect your baby.

Iodine is a mineral found in food — and one of the most important minerals a fetus needs for brain development and physical growth. While our bodies require only the teeny-tiniest amount of it (only 5g over the course of a 70-year lifetime!), that little bit is really important. Iodine deficiency in pregnancy is the most preventable cause of intellectual disability in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a rare problem in the U.S., but it’s a growing problem.

In the past, home-cooked meals with iodized table salt provided adequate iodine in the average American’s diet. But iodine content in many of the foods and beverages we consume today is pretty low. The addition of iodine to table salt isn’t mandatory in the U.S., and the salt that’s used in baked goods, chips and other processed foods isn’t iodized either. So with more processed and prepared foods making up our diets, we’re getting less iodine. What’s more, sea salt isn’t iodized either — and many people use sea salt when cooking these days without realizing it doesn’t offer the same health benefits as iodized salt.

For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued new iodine recommendations in 2014 for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The AAP now recommends pregnant and lactating women cook with iodized salt and take a daily supplement with 150 mcg of iodine to reach a total of 290 mcg per day.


During pregnancy, iodine maintains normal function of the thyroid, a gland in the base of your neck that regulates the hormones controlling your metabolism, heart rate, body temperature and other core body functions. Getting enough ensures that your baby develops a healthy and normal thyroid, too. In the rare case a fetus has an underdeveloped thyroid, it can lead to low IQ, developmental delays, deafness, birth defects, cretinism (severely stunted physical and developmental growth) and (in the most extreme cases) death.

Iodine is also key in lactation, as you pass iodine on to your baby through your breast milk. That means the iodine you consume continues to support your baby’s thyroid and brain development until your baby begins eating solids.


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