Iodine: Vegan Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Series part 2
Updated: May 15, 2019
At the #thriveveganfestial workshop yesterday I was asked about iodine in pregnancy for the vegan mum, and I have to admit I didn’t have the answer. Given my desire for knowledge, this led me on a mission to become better informed.
“Iodine is a mineral that is important for health. It is needed to make the thyroid hormones. These hormones are needed for many body processes including growth, regulating metabolism and for the development of a baby’s brain during pregnancy and early life.” British Dietetics Association (2016)
Why is iodine important for pregnancy and breastfeeding?
There is an undisputed link between iodine intake and thyroid producing hormones. When planing a family, having adequate iodine levels helps prepare your body, stabilising your thyroid hormones ready for a healthy pregnancy. Subtle but important links have been made between low thyroid levels (hypothyroidism) and fetal brain development (Haddow, 1999). Ensuring stable thyroid levels by avoiding an iodine deficiency in pregnancy will contribute to the healthy development of your baby’s brain. When breastfeeding, your baby’s only iodine intake comes from your breastmilk; important because of the rapid development f the brain undertakes in the early years.
What are the intake recommendations?
The Word Health Organisation (WHO) recommend a daily intake of 250mcg for pregnant and breastfeeding women, whilst the European Food Safety Authority recommend 200mcg. Because of the links between hypothyroidism and brain development in the developing baby, and the important role that iodine plays in the production of thyroid, it is suggested that all women of childbearing age avoid iodine deficiency. There have been no large studies in the UK that analyse iodine deficiency in pregnant women although a small scale study showed (in their selected population) that up to 43.5% of women may be deficient (Kibirige et al, 2004)
Internationally, there has been a call for iodine supplements for pregnant women in countries where less than 20% of households have access to iodised salt (WHO, 2018). Interestingly, salt manufacturers in the UK do not routinely iodise salt because historically the strategy to increase iodine intake was to make changes to farming practices. Indeed, this still continues today, with the highest concentrations of iodine being found in dairy products.
Iodine and the vegan pregnancy diet
Iodine in the vegan diet is limited. Plant-based iodine can be found in small amounts in nuts, fruit and vegetables but the concentration is dependent upon the amount of iodine in the soil. Seaweed and kelp have the highest concentration, but the exact amount varies and may be inconsistent with packaging labels.
Pregnancy vitamins tend to have an iodine supplement of 150mcg, but again this is variable so always check the packaging. The alternative option is to consume iodised salt, which is not readily available in UK supermarkets and very unlikely to make up the salt content in processed food (Bath, Payman & Button, 2013). Also be mindful of the public health campaigns to reduce the amount of salt in your diet; you may not wish to rely on salt alone. It is advisable to heed caution with seaweed and kelp supplementation because the concentrations may be too high and result in over production of thyroid, known at hyperthyroidsim, which has its own complications in pregnancy.
Vegan Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Series
About Lisa-Marie South, Independent Midwife
I am a private midwife offering midwifery care in Cambridgeshire and the surrounding areas. Please feel free to contact me for more information about my private midwifery services, which include private antenatal and postnatal care, homebirth, birth advocacy, individual antenatal classes and birth debrief.
Bath, Rayman, Button (2013) Availability of iodised table salt in the UK - Is it likely to influence population iodine intake? Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234157098_Availability_of_iodised_table_salt_in_the_UK_-_Is_it_likely_to_influence_population_iodine_intake
British Dietetics Association (2016) Iodine Food Fact Sheet. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/Iodine.pdf
Haddow, et al. (1999) Maternal thyroid deficiency during pregnancy and subsequent neuropsychological development of the child. N Engl J Med 1999;341:549–55. Available at: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199908193410801
Kibirige, et. al. (2004) Prevalence of maternal dietary iodine insufficiency in the north east of England: implications for the fetus. Available at: https://fn.bmj.com/content/fetalneonatal/89/5/F436.full.pdf
World Health Organisation (2018) Iodine supplementation in pregnant and lactating women. Available at: https://www.who.int/elena/titles/iodine_pregnancy/en/