Iodine deficiency isn’t as common in the United States since a lot of our foods have iodine in them, but other countries around the world with less iodine in their foods and even in their soil struggle with getting enough to have healthy levels. This mineral is crucial for development, especially for infant development, and the best way infants get the necessary levels of iodine is through breastfeeding.

In infants, iodine deficiency can disrupt growth and damage the nervous system. To ensure that all infants get the recommended dose of iodine, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that all women take iodine supplements during pregnancy to ensure that they’re giving their baby the proper nutrition. If breastfeeding is not an option for the mother, the WHO recommends that infants should be given a lower concentration pill directly.

However, during the course of a new study, it was found that giving iodine directly to the infants was less effective than giving them to the mothers and letting the children receive the iodine through breastfeeding.

Researchers from the Laboratory of Human Nutrition at ETH conducted a blind study that included 241 mother-child pairs from Morocco. Half of the mothers were given an iodine tablet and the babies were given a placebo tablet. In the other group, the babies were given the iodine and the mothers were given the placebo. The pills were given out about 8 weeks after birth then the first vaccinations were administered.

Over the next nine months, Raschida Bouhouch, a PhD student, and her colleagues measure the iodine concentration in the mothers and children to determine the status of their iodine levels.

It was found that children taking iodine had iodine levels well below the normal threshold, and children receiving the iodine from their mothers had increased levels of iodine, but for about eight months, and then it dropped below normal again. Also, after giving birth, the mother’s iodine levels were also below normal. It’s been suggested that the mother’s body sends all additional iodine reserves to her child during pregnancy to encourage development, which ultimately leaves her depleted. To correct this, the researchers recommended that the mother receive two does of iodine instead of just one.

Researchers are unsure why breastfeeding makes the transfer of iodine from mother to child so effective, but scientist and physicians hypothesize that infants are able to absorb the mineral better through breast milk than they are from the pill.

ETH Zurich (2013, November 25). Breastfeeding provides babies with iodine. ScienceDaily.