Are You Getting Enough Choline—the Other Prenatal Vitamin?

This nutrient can be as important for your growing baby as folic acid, so how do you make sure you're eating enough of it?

Pregnant young woman at refrigerator choosing healthy food DrGrounds/Getty Images
If you're like many pregnant women, you're likely taking a prenatal vitamin to supplement your diet and ensure your baby is getting everything he needs to grow and thrive—including crucial nutrients and minerals like folic acid, iron, iodine, and calcium.

But there's another nutrient not typically found in prenatal vitamins that's also important for the development of a healthy fetus: choline. Although the body makes some choline on its own, the amount you need during pregnancy is much higher than what you need on a normal day-to-day basis, says Eric Hodgson, M.D., a maternal and fetal medicine specialist in Hartford, Conn.

"Choline helps the baby's brain cells to develop and function normally and protects against birth defects like spina bifida," Dr. Hodgson explains. "Some studies have shown that it can also improve a baby's IQ and protect them from other mental problems like depression."

Related: Finding Folate: How to Get Enough of This B Vitamin

So how can make sure you're getting the recommended 450 mg of choline per day (550 mg if you breastfeed)? Choline is most abundantly found in animal food products; so, if you regularly eat eggs, meat, or fish, you're well on your way to meeting the requirement. The average woman eats anywhere from 300 to 425 mg of choline per day, so simply adding an egg or two or a 3 oz.-portion of lean chicken or red meat should get you to your goal.

Vegetarians may have a more difficult time, however, Dr. Hodgson warns. It's not impossible—foods like legumes, spinach, potatoes, wheat germ and broccoli all have choline—but you might have to make more of an effort.

If you're concerned about your choline intake you can always ask your medical provider about a supplement. But according to Dr. Hodgson, you should be generally consuming enough if you follow a healthy diet. "Make smart food choices, eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods, and use common sense," he says. "That's the best way to get what you and your baby need."