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Choline: What Is It and Why Is It Important for Me and My Baby?

Choline: What Is It and Why Is It Important for Me and My Baby?

Posted by Diane, MPH, RD, LD - Director of Nutrition Services on Jun 23rd 2020

There's no doubt that as a parent, you want to ensure your child gets the appropriate nutrition he or she needs for proper growth and development. Choline is definitely a nutrient your little one needs! Our dietitian, Diane, is here to explain why...

Choline is an essential nutrient considered to be part of the B-family of vitamins. It is necessary for the structure and function of all cells in the body and is especially important during periods of rapid growth and development including good brain development. Choline is found in the body in fats known as phospholipids. A healthy body has the capability of making some choline, but it also must be consumed in the diet. A recent analysis of the Adequate Intake (AI) for choline has shown that approximately 90% of Americans, including pregnant and breastfeeding women are well below the AI. When diet alone cannot meet choline needs, supplementation will be needed.

Choline is especially critical during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and early childhood. According to important scientific reviews of choline, “pregnancy and lactation are periods when maternal reserves of choline are often depleted. At the same time, the availability of choline for normal development of the brain is critical." Large amounts of choline cross the placenta into the amniotic fluid used by the fetus to support development. This can deplete pregnant women’s stores of choline. The American Medical Association adopted a resolution to support the need for choline in prenatal supplements to ensure that the growing fetus’ brain and spinal cord develop properly. Choline works with the vitamin, folic acid, in many of the pathways that involve nervous system development of the fetus during pregnancy and may help in preventing birth defects such as spina bifida and cleft palate. During lactation, there is also an increased need for choline as human milk is rich in choline which can further deplete a mother’s choline stores.

Choline continues to be important for infants and young children. This period of rapid growth uses choline to continue to support brain and nervous system development. During early infancy, choline deficiency can cause long-term effects on memory. Breastfed infants will obtain the choline they need from breast milk. Breastfeeding moms should continue to take a prenatal supplement to support the baby’s needs for this important nutrient. Although not a required nutrient addition in infant and toddler formulas, most infant formulas contain choline in the synthetic form called choline bitartrate except for Baby’s Only Organic® formulas containing a natural source of choline from egg lecithin (also know as egg phospholipid). Egg lecithin is obtained from egg yolks and offers the benefits of providing not only choline, but also the fatty acids DHA and ARA in phospholipid form. The use of egg phospholipids in infant formula has been widely studied. They form smaller droplets and are more easily absorbed in the intestinal tract and provide good bio-availability of not only choline, but also DHA and ARA. Because of their chemical structure, phospholipids have both hydrophilic (water soluble) and lipophilic (fat soluble) properties and are not reliant on bile acids for digestion and absorption.

The prestigious Institute of Medicine specifies an adequate daily intake of choline as follows:

  • Infants 0-6 months of age - 125 milligrams/day
  • Infant 7-12 months of age - 150 milligrams/day
  • Children 1-3 years of age - 200 milligrams/day
  • Pregnancy – 450 milligrams per day
  • Lactation – 550 milligrams per day

Good food sources of choline include eggs, meat, salmon, and milk. For more information on choline and foods rich in this essential nutrient, click here!

Thank you for reading and let me know if you have any questions!

-Diane