Choline in Pregnancy & How It Affects Your Baby’s Development

September 22nd, 2023
Updated April 5, 2024
Medically Reviewed by Cara Everett, MS, RDN, LDN

Every mother wants to give her baby the best possible start in life. For many mothers, that means taking a prenatal vitamin every day, from conception until the day their baby is born. Unfortunately, while prenatal vitamins are an excellent way to get the essential nutrients necessary for a growing baby, they fail to account for genetic differences between mothers.

How Gene Mutations Affect Prenatal Nutrients in Babies

Studies show that over 70% of people have at least one mutated gene, called a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) that affects the metabolism of key nutrients in pregnancy. SNPs lead to differences in how effectively essential nutrients get passed from mother to baby. SNPs can reduce the efficiency of enzymes necessary for converting nutrients from their ingested forms into those needed for fetal growth and cognitive development.

Reduced amounts of essential nutrients, such as folic acid, DHA, and choline, can affect fetal brain and central nervous system development and may impact the cognitive potential of children later in life. However, metabolic inefficiencies caused by SNPs can be overcome with the right supplementation, if you know you have the genetic variant. 

The Genate Test analyzes five pathways and 325 SNPs to give you a personalized report on how to support your child’s brain development, optimize maternal and placental health, and enhance your postpartum recovery.

What is Choline?

Choline is a one carbon nutrient you can get from food; it can also be synthesized by your body. However, like DHA and vitamin D, genetic misspellings may prevent your body from making enough choline to meet you and your baby's needs. 

Sources of Choline for Pregnancy

Dietary choline is found in both plant and animal sources. Animal sources include beef, chicken, fish, pork, eggs, and cow's milk. Choline is also in plant-based foods such as nuts, legumes, and broccoli. 

How Much Choline Do Pregnant Women Need?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 450 mg of choline per day during pregnancy and 550 mg per day while breastfeeding. Despite the importance of choline for fetal development, it is not an ingredient in most prenatal vitamins, and fewer than one in 10 pregnant women ingest sufficient amounts.

Choline for Babies: How it Supports Fetal Development

Choline is involved in many metabolic and physiologic processes in your growing baby. It is used to make cell membranes, support metabolism, and enhance the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Here are some other benefits for your baby:

Brain Development

Choline is essential for proper brain development in the fetus. It aids in the formation of neural tube structures and helps in the production of key neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine. More recent studies suggest that increased choline intake is neuroprotective and is associated with increased attention and memory later in life. 

Prevents Neural Tube Defects

Choline contributes to the development of the neural tube, which eventually forms the baby's brain and spinal cord. Studies show that taking choline supplements is associated with a reduced risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. ADHD, schizophrenia, and other forms of mental illness later in life. 

Choline for Pregnancy: Why it’s Important for You

Choline is an essential nutrient that supports various processes during pregnancy. It is particularly important for the development of the placenta, the organ that connects the mother to the fetus and facilitates the exchange of nutrients and waste products.

Placenta and Liver Health

Most of the choline you take during pregnancy is transferred to the placenta, where it is used to nourish your growing baby. A healthy liver is crucial for maintaining optimal placental function. Choline helps prevent the accumulation of fat in the liver and supports its proper functioning, indirectly contributing to the health and efficiency of the placenta. Choline deficiency caused by low dietary intake or SNPs that interfere with choline metabolism can lead to fatty liver disease, liver damage and poor placental health.

In addition, research suggests that choline may impact attention span and cognitive function in pregnant women. Here's how

Attention Span

Choline is a precursor for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in various cognitive functions, including attention and focus. Adequate choline levels support the production and release of acetylcholine, which can positively influence the attention span of both mother and child.

Memory and Learning

Choline also plays a role in memory formation and learning processes. It supports the formation of new synapses, enhances communication between neurons, and facilitates neural plasticity. These factors can influence attention span, as both baby and mother can experience better memory and learning capabilities and tend to have improved focus and sustained attention.

Preventing Cognitive Disease

Studies show that adequate choline intake during pregnancy may potentially reduce the risk of cognitive disorders, such as age-related cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease, in both the mother and child.

When Should You Take Choline Supplements During Pregnancy?

The best time to start supplementing with choline is before conception, to ensure your body has enough choline to support the early stages of brain development. A prenatal multivitamin that contains choline, like the Genate Essential Prenatal Vitamin, is a great foundation to support you and your baby. This prenatal contains 450mg of choline per serving size, and in total it boasts 20 key nutrients to encourage healthy growth.

A dietitian or healthcare provider can help you choose the best type and amount of choline.

How Do You Know if You Have a Genetic Mutation That Affects Your Choline Status?

Common genetic variants in choline pathways increase the risk of choline deficiency, leading to an increased risk of neural tube defects and other poor outcomes for your baby. The only way to determine if you have a genetic variant in choline metabolism or synthesis is by getting a genetic nutrition test such as The Genate Test.

With each client’s test results, we help expectant mothers understand how their diet and genetics impact their developing baby. The Genate Test focuses on metabolic pathways and hundreds of genetic variants to determine how your unique genetic profile can cause nutrient deficiencies essential for fetal growth and cognitive development. With the test results and nutrition counseling, you can customize your diet and supplement intake to optimize your health and your baby's brain development.

References

Adams, J. B., Kirby, J. K., Sorensen, J. C., Pollard, E. L., & Audhya, T. (2022). Evidence-based recommendations for an optimal prenatal supplement for women in the US: vitamins and related nutrients. Maternal Health, Neonatology and Perinatology, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40748-022-00139-9

Choline during pregnancy impacts children's sustained attention | Cornell Chronicle. (2022, January 3). Cornell Chronicle. https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2022/01/choline-during-pregnancy-impacts-childrens-sustained-attention

Freedman, R., & Ross, R. G. (2015). Prenatal choline and the development of schizophrenia. Shanghai Archives of Psychiatry, 27(2), 90–102. https://doi.org/10.11919/j.issn.1002-0829.215006

Korsmo, H. W., Jiang, X., & Caudill, M. A. (2019). Choline: Exploring the Growing Science on Its Benefits for Moms and Babies. Nutrients, 11(8), 1823. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081823

United States Department of Agriculture. (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf

Wallace, T.C., Blusztajn, J.K., Caudill, M.A., Klatt, K., C., Natker, E., Zeisel, S.H., & Zelman, K.M. (2018). Choline: The underconsumed and underappreciated nutrient. Nutrition Today, 53(6), 240-253. https://doi.org/10.1097/NT.0000000000000302

da Costa, K.A., Corbin, K.D., Niculescu, M.D., Galanko, J.A., & Zeisel, S.H. (2014) FASEB J.28(7), 2970-2978. https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.14-249557

European Food Safety Authority. (2016). Scientific opinion on dietary references values for choline. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/consultation/160222.pdf

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