06/23/2014 04:59 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2014

You Mamas Taking Iodine?

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If you're either expecting a little one or have a new baby at home, you may want to reconsider trading table salt for alternatives like sea salt. A new policy statement from The American Academy of Pediatrics finds that many women, including up to 1/3 of pregnant women, may have low levels of iodine, putting them at risk for iodine deficiency.

The reason for the deficiency is the changing food source. Over the last 20-30 years, our major source of salt has shifted away from table salt (supplemented with iodine) to salt from processed foods, sea salt or gourmet salts that have no supplemental iodine. This is especially important for breastfeeding and pregnant women, as iodine is essential for thyroid function that supports fetal and newborn brain development.

This policy statement was news to me. I had no idea that the salt used to make most processed foods lacked iodine, that the majority of prenatal vitamins didn't provide iodine and that the number of women who may have a deficiency was so large. I'm not alone; when I polled my Mama Doc Facebook community, most moms and many doctors also commented this was a newsflash. Here's more on the new American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations:

Iodine Deficiencies - Shifting Salt Sources

  • Why do we need iodine? We need iodine for thyroid hormone synthesis as thyroid is essential in brain development and metabolism. The policy reminds us that even mild iodine deficiency can affect fetal and early childhood neurocognitive development stating, "adequate thyroid hormone production is critical in pregnant women and neonates because thyroid hormone is required for brain development in children."
  • Table salt intake: Table salt is iodized but many gourmet salts and salty, packaged foods lack supplemental iodine. Consider ensuring that when cooking in your home (i.e. putting salt in the pasta water or salting the veggies) you use iodized table salt so your intake of iodine goes back up. REMEMBER: This doesn't mean you should eat MORE salt, just swap in the table salt for the fancy salts when you can.
  • Isn't this in my prenatal? Research has also found that only about 15-20% of prenatal vitamins have the iodine you need (290 micrograms). You can up your iodine in your diet by eating food high in iodine. If you don't do that, recommendations are to take 150µg of iodine daily on top of your regular diet while pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Iodine deficiency and pollutants: The statement also discusses how some environmental pollutants can compete with iodine for transport into thyroid tissue. Therefore, if you're somewhat iodine deficient and exposed to these chemicals, your thyroid function may suffer even more. So, work to avoid nitrates (found in well water), perchlorate (found in about 4% of public drinking water), and thiocyanate (found most often in cigarette and second-hand smoke). Taking supplemental iodine will help ensure these pollutants are not more dangerous to you or your baby!

The Skinny On Iodine Supplementation: 3 Things To Know

  1. Iodine deficiency can affect a fetus or baby's development. Deficiency can also increase if exposure to certain pollutants in the environment.
  2. If you or a family member is pregnant or breastfeeding, ask your doctor about taking 150 micrograms of iodine daily.
  3. Use iodized table salt for cooking when you can. If you're not interested in taking supplements while pregnant or breastfeeding, consider increasing dietary iodine with seaweed, some fish like cod, shellfish, baked potato with skin or veggies that are high in iodine.