If you’re pregnant or looking to become pregnant, you’ve probably read all about the importance of iodine supplements during your pregnancy. Iodine deficiency is called hypothyroxinemia, and it is actually a deficiency of an iodine-containing hormone produced by the thyroid gland. Since the thyroid is so depleted during pregnancy, iodine supplements are meant to counteract the low prevalence of this hormone. Many women will start taking iodine supplements only after a deficiency has been noted well into their pregnancy. It was recently determined that even if women begin taking the iodine supplements during their pregnancy, it might already be too late, as the negative effects of low iodine can occur even in just the first month of gestation. A recent study was designed to determine what negative neurobehavioral side effects were prevalent in babies whose mothers started supplementation too late.

In the study, children’s’ performance was measured at age eighteen months. Some of the babies were born to hypothyroxinemic women who took supplements from the beginning of gestation and those who started taking iodine supplements later in their pregnancy. The results showed delayed neurobehavioral performance in many of the children whose mothers started the supplements late, and absolutely no delay in those with consistent supplementation. Motor skills and socialization were both examined in the testing. In other words, if you start taking your iodine supplements too late in your pregnancy, your child will be delayed in his neurobehavioral development. Only by starting iodine supplementation as early as possible will the negative effects of hypothyroxinemia be offset. Since iodine deficiency is not at all a rare condition, women who are looking to conceive should be tested, and start supplementation right away if they find they are deficient.

Obviously, we all want our babies to be born as healthy as possible, both mentally and physically. Sometimes, their health is completely out of our control, but in cases like these, we can take measures to ensure that certain complications are avoided. A delay in any type of neurological development is frustrating both for the parents and the child, so iodine supplementation should be considered of paramount importance once your child is conceived. You should always consult your health care provider when considering taking supplements during your pregnancy, but be sure to also discuss iodine supplements as early as possible. Taking these supplements right away could affect your child’s mental health significantly.

Source: Berbel P et al: Delayed neurobehavioral development in children born to pregnant women with mild hypothyroxinemia during the first month of gestation: the importance of early iodine supplementation. National Center for Biotechnology Information May 2009

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