The body uses the element iodine as part of making thyroid hormone. That means you need iodine in your diet, which in turn means eating cow’s milk and dairy products, eggs, saltwater fish, shellfish, and soy, or making sure to use iodized salt in cooking and seasoning. Iodine deficiency can lead to thyroid diseases such as goiter—which used to be very common in areas of the United States far from oceans, where fresh fish was unavailable until quite recently—and hypothyroidism, which can cause symptoms as varied as constipation and depression.
Iodine deficiency is particularly a risk for pregnant and nursing mothers. Iodine is important to the fetus’s developing brain, and children born to mothers who do not get enough iodine during pregnancy have a heightened risk of mental disability, cognitive difficulty, and congenital brain damage. Moreover, pregnant women who don’t get enough iodine are more prone to miscarriage or stillbirth, or premature delivery.
The need for iodine only increases once the baby is born if the mother is breastfeeding. Women breastfeeding infants are responsible for the child’s nutritional needs as well as their own, and need to increase their own intake to keep the child from developing a deficiency.
“Iodine levels in the US have been decreasing, which has the potential to negatively impact the mother and unborn child,” said George Washington University obstetrician Alex Stagnaro-Green in a statement. “It’s time for all healthcare professionals to make sure that every pregnant and breastfeeding woman gets supplemental iodine during pregnancy and while they are breastfeeding.”
Stagnaro-Green and a co-author, Boston University School of Medicine associate professor Elizabeth Pearce, recently issued a paper in which they called for a conversation about how healthcare professionals can help pregnant women and new mothers get adequate nutrition. Stagnaro-Green and Pearce are promoting the idea that iodine is an important part of maternal and neonatal health.