When it comes to nutritional supplements for the mother-to-be, folic acid — the B-group vitamin that is critical for helping to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida — gets all the press.
However, several studies suggest that choline, a less well-known water-soluble nutrient that is also classed with the B-group vitamins, is just as important in ensuring healthy foetal development, particularly in reducing the risk of heart defects.
According to a study of mice by researchers from Cornell University and McGill University, low choline intake during pregnancy was associated with increased levels of homocysteine in the blood, which is a risk factor for heart disease, as well as heart problems in the animals' offspring.
Another report, published in Behavioral Neuroscience, suggests that adequate choline during pregnancy was linked to improved attention span in test animals' babies. Even though these were animal studies, not human ones, it makes sense for any pregnant mum to err on the side of caution and ensure she eats good food sources of choline, such as liver, eggs, fish, chicken, spinach, tofu, and wheatgerm.
Vegetarians may want to consider a supplement, with professional supervision.