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Pregnancy nutrients: Iodine



The importance of iodine

Iodine is a key nutrient for pregnancy. As well as being involved in many functions and processes of the body, it is vital for your baby’s brain development. Learn what this trace element does and how to include it in your pregnancy diet.

Iodine helps to support:
Normal cognitive development 

Iodine: A vital nutrient for good health

Iodine is a trace element found in dairy foods, fish and some other foods1. One of the less well-known nutrients, it has a vital role to play in your everyday health and your baby’s incredible journey from conception to birth.

Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones. These hormones affect the way your cells function, affecting the processes of your body, including heart rate and metabolism.

During pregnancy, your baby’s cells also rely on your iodine intake, including the cells in their rapidly developing brain2.

Fish and dairy foods are sources of iodine.

Why you need more iodine during pregnancy

Iodine is important during pregnancy for three reasons2:

  • You need thyroid hormones for your own body processes
  • Your body provides your baby with iodine
  • It is thought that you might naturally lose more iodine than usual during pregnancy
Yogurt is an excellent source of iodine which has a vital role to play in your everyday health along with your baby’s development.

Building a healthy brain

With your baby’s brain developing rapidly throughout pregnancy, a good supply of iodine is essential to building this complex organ2.

A well-balanced diet that includes a healthy intake of iodine will support your baby’s developing brain, contributing to their learning and motor skills, and helping to set the stage for all future development.

Which contains more iodine, organic cows’ milk or regular cows’ milk?

organic milk
regular milk

Guidance on how much iodine to eat when pregnant

Despite being present in many foods, a 2013 study found that iodine3 deficiency is a public health concern.

The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI – the amount considered to be enough to meet most people’s needs) for women is 140mcg per day. The World Health Organization recommends that pregnant women get 250mcg per day4.

White fish is an excellent source of iodine, as are dairy foods, including yogurt. It’s worth noting that the iodine content of dairy varies depending on the season, due to variations in how cows are fed throughout the year. Higher levels of iodine have been measured in milk over the winter when cows are fed on winter feed rations, compared with the summer, when lower levels have been measured5. These seasonal changes have been linked to the amount of iodine in maternal diets6. Because the best sources are animal-based, vegetarians and vegans may be at a higher risk of deficiency3. Talk to your midwife about taking a pregnancy-safe iodine supplement4 if you think you might not be getting enough in your diet.

”Before taking any supplement during pregnancy, it’s important to discuss it with your midwife.”

You can also increase your intake by replacing your regular salt with an iodised version. However, you shouldn’t increase your salt intake just to get more iodine. Iodised salt is just a fortified version3.

Foods containing iodine4:

Next Steps

Boost your intake with the following iodine-rich meals and snacks:

  • Kedgeree made with white fish and boiled eggs
  • A bowl of yogurt with sliced almonds
  • Prawn cocktail made with yogurt
  • Jacket potato topped with cottage cheese or sardines
  • A mug of hot milk before bedtime

View references

Hide references

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1. NHS UK. Iodine [Online]. 2012. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

2. Delange F. Iodine requirements during pregnancy, lactation and the neonatal period and indicators of optimal iodine nutrition. Public Health Nutr 2007;10(12A):1571-1580.

3. Bath SC, Rayman MP. Is iodine deficiency during pregnancy a public health concern in the UK? Nutr Bulletin 2013;38(4):400-404.

4. British Dietetic Association. Food fact sheet: Iodine [Online]. 2013. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

5. Travnicek et al. Iodine content in raw milk [Online]. 2006. Available at: [Accessed August 2014]

6. Furmidge-Owen, V. A longitudinal study of iodine status throughout gestation in UK women [Online]. 2013. Available at: [Accessed August 2014]

Last reviewed: 18th August 2014
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