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Pregnant during COVID? Protect yourself and your baby

Prenatal vitamins are essential for pregnant women. Studies show more than 120,000 babies will be born with birth defects in the United States this year. The March of Dimes says up to seven in 10 could be prevented if expectant mothers took a prenatal vitamin.

Folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D are all essential for your unborn baby. And now, another nutrient is being added to the list to not only help the babies’ brain development but also protect them from COVID-19.

Annie Wyrwa didn’t think twice about taking prenatal vitamins when she was pregnant with Finlay.

“It just kind of seemed like a no-brainer to me,” Wyrwa said.

Along with her daily vitamin, Wyrwa was part of a study that added choline to the list.

Sharon Hunter, a developmental psychologist at CU Anschutz Medical Campus in Colorado, said choline is “an important, neurotransmitter like substance that’s really critical for appropriate fetal brain development.”

Not only does choline impact an unborn baby’s brain, but new research shows it also helps protect against respiratory infections in the mother, like COVID-19, that can affect fetal brain development.

“Because without it, the brain is too active, it’s too busy,” Hunter said.

In 1-year-olds, low levels before birth caused attention problems and social withdrawal. By age 4, children had problems with reading and concentration. In adults, this could cause mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

“Things like infection, depression, and stress, those kinds of things affect how much gets to the baby,” Hunter explained.

You can get choline through foods like eggs, liver, beets, spinach, peanuts, poultry and fish. At least 20% to 30% of pregnant women are deficient in the amount of choline they get in their diet.

Women can also take choline supplements, but that can run up to a thousand dollars a pregnancy.

Professor Hunter said lecithin is a good source of choline and can cost about $250 for the entire pregnancy. Supplements supplied little Finlay with the choline she needed.

“We really are starting to see her personality come out. And, she’s very opinionated, and sweet and sassy,” Wyrwa said.

The American Medical Association has issued a resolution calling for the addition of choline to prenatal vitamins. If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you should ask your OB-GYN about adding a daily choline supplement to your routine.