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The Importance of Iodine in Pregnancy and Fertility

Recently, GP’s have started prescribing iodine, along with folic acid, as a routine prescription to pregnant women. Iodine is just one of several nutrients that are essential for a healthy growing baby, so what is it about iodine that makes it an absolute essential for foetal development?

It has been estimated that globally, 2 billion individuals have insufficient iodine intake. The people of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are particularly affected, with 50% of Europe remaining iodine deficient and statistics show that iodine levels have fallen greatly in United States, Australia and New Zealand too. Iodine is a trace element mineral and is easily excreted from the body so regular small amounts are essential to maintain health.

Iodine plays a major role in the normal functioning of the thyroid gland and in the development of the organs and brain of the foetus during pregnancy, as well as the first three years of the child’s life. If the supply of iodine during pregnancy is too low the result can be mental retardation in the child, brain damage, perinatal death, infant mortality, as well as several thyroid function abnormalities including hypothyroidism, goitre and cretinism. The risk of miscarriage is increased, along with various autoimmune conditions and several maternal thyroid abnormalities.

The World Health Organisation considers iodine deficiency as the most common cause of preventable brain damage in the world. Thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) have many physiological actions and are essential for normal behavioural, intellectual and neurological development during gestation and in the essential early years of a baby’s life.

There are three stages of thyroid hormone dependent neurological development. The first stage occurs before the foetus is able to produce thyroid hormones itself (16-20 weeks) and thyroid hormone exposure comes from the mother’s supply only. Stage two runs over the remainder of the pregnancy after the baby starts to produce thyroid hormone also. During this stage the baby’s brain is supplied with thyroid hormones from both the mother and the baby itself. The third stage is during the post-natal period when the supply of thyroid hormones to the brain is produced entirely from the child itself. The need for iodine-rich foods (and supplements) for the mother during all three of these stages is critical – not just during the gestational stages but also post-natal, as the baby depends on iodine excretion through breast milk in order to make the thyroid hormones necessary for healthy brain development.

So how much is needed? The WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends 250-300mcg of daily iodine for pregnant women and 250-350mcg iodine daily for lactating women. It is estimated that approximately 50-75mcg of iodine daily is transferred from mother to baby during pregnancy, and that 75-200mcg iodine is excreted daily in human milk from breastfeeding mothers. It is also important to note that iodized table salt as a dietary source of iodine is not effective and a poor source of iodine supplementation. This is because there is a much greater amount of chloride in food grade salt which competes with the iodine for absorption in the body. Eating a diet rich in fresh seawater fish, shellfish and organic seaweeds will also help to increase the levels of iodine in your diet.

For more information on how your diet can influence your everyday health, fertility, pregnancy and children, contact Wellington Natural Fertility Nutrition specialist, Kimberly Taylor on 04 4991439.

Kimberly Taylor is a successful Naturopath, Nutritionist and Medical Herbalist in Wellington, New Zealand. She has a passion for women’s health care from puberty to menopause including natural fertility and preconception care. She loves supporting women and couples to restore hormonal balance and fertility, especially when a beautiful healthy baby is the happy outcome! With a life-long interest in nutrition, food and cooking, Kimberly has qualifications in naturopathy, herbal medicine and clinical nutrition. She holds a post-graduate certificate in fertility and reproductive health as well as a BA and BCom from Otago University. You can contact Kimberly by visiting

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