Why does Iodine Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

JanelMS, RD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 4 minutes

What to know about meeting your and your child’s iodine needs

  • Learn why iodine is important for health

  • How much iodine is needed by age

  • What foods are good sources of iodine

What does iodine do?

Iodine is an essential trace mineral.1 This means that while we don’t need large amounts of it, we must get this nutrient from what we eat since it is not made by the body.

Iodine is particularly important for thyroid function as it is a crucial component of our thyroid hormones.2 These hormones are essential for growth and neurocognitive development, making this nutrient particularly important in pregnancy.3,5

Without enough iodine our thyroid function may falter. A deficiency could lead to enlargement of the thyroid (also called ‘goiter’), hypothyroidism, and even intellectual disabilities in children whose mothers were deficient in iodine during pregnancy.24

How much iodine is needed?

Below are the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for iodine. Note that the numbers for infants are Adequate Intakes (AIs), since there is not enough data to establish an RDA. The AIs provide guidance to help get a level of iodine that is nutritionally adequate.1

  • Infant Birth – 6 months: 110 mcg

  • Infant 7 to 12 months: 130 mcg

  • Children 1 – 8 years: 90 mcg

  • Children 9 – 13 years: 120 mcg

  • Adolescents 14 – 18 years: 150 mcg

  • Adults 19+ years: 150 mcg

  • Pregnancy: 220 mcg

  • Lactation: 290 mcg1

Food sources of iodine

Infant formula in the United States must contain a specific amount of iodine.6 Breastmilk also contains iodine, though the amount is highly linked with how much the mother is getting in her own diet.1

There are not many foods that are rich sources of iodine. It is found primarily in seafood, seaweed (kelp, nori, wakame, kombu), eggs, and some dairy foods.1

Interestingly, the iodine in dairy is not natural, but rather a result of iodine-containing disinfectants used during milking.7

Since not all diets include these foods, in the early 1900’s up to 70% of children had goiter in certain areas of the United States.7 Once iodine was seen to dramatically decrease the prevalence of this disease, the United States began the iodized salt program to help prevent the rampant deficiencies.7,8 Now the practice of iodizing salt is used all over the world.9

Iodine in your and your child’s diet

Iodine: Pregnancy and breastfeeding diet

Iodine needs increase by approximately 40 to 50% during pregnancy and lactation. This is due to increased thyroid hormone production, iodine transfer to the fetus, excretion through urine, and transfer to the infant via breast milk.10

Surveys indicate that many pregnant women in the United States, while not showing signs of iodine deficiency, may not be getting sufficient amounts of iodine.11 Focus on choosing iodine-rich food sources as well as using iodized salt during cooking to help ensure you are protecting both your own health as well as your baby’s.

Read more:

Can I Eat Seafood while Pregnant or Breastfeeding?

Healthy Snacks during Pregnancy

Iodine: Toddler and parent diet

Once your little one begins eating solids, be sure to include food sources of iodine each week to help meet their needs, as well as get them into the habit of eating these iodine-rich foods. Saltwater fish and seafood are great sources of this nutrient, as is nori (roasted seaweed).

Should your child reject these foods at first, keep trying! Studies indicate that the more often you introduce foods, the more likely it is that your child will accept them both now and in the future.12

Iodized salt is one of the main sources of iodine for people in the United States; however, many people have begun choosing kosher or sea salt over iodized salt. This trend may be putting people at risk for low iodine intake, potentially resulting in thyroid issues.

Additionally, it’s important to note that most of the salt in the standard Western diet comes from processed foods, which is not iodized. So these salty foods are not a good source of iodine.

To get enough iodine, choose to cook with iodized salt at least some of the time, aim to get seafood a couple times per week, have yogurt if you’re able, and try out some other sources of iodine, such as having roasted nori as a fun snack or salad topping.13

Tips for getting enough iodine

Focus on foods

Eating iodine-containing foods is a great way to make sure you and your child are getting enough iodine in your diet.

Include foods such as: Sea vegetables (such as kelp, wakame, or seaweed), cod, yogurt, shrimp, salmon, dairy, enriched grain products, eggs, and tuna.

Include iodized salt in your eating pattern

Using iodized salt as your table salt or in cooking can also help to keep your iodine levels in a healthy range.

Remember that children under the age of 1 do not need extra salt added to their diet.19 And the good news is that they are likely getting enough iodine from breastmilk and formula.

Read more: Avoid Giving your Child too much Salt and Sugar

Here’s a cheat sheet of foods with amounts of iodine by serving:

  • Seaweed, nori, dried, 10 g: 232 mcg

  • Cod, baked, 3 oz: 158 mcg

  • Greek yogurt, plain, 1 cup: 116 mcg

  • Milk, nonfat, 1 cup: 93 mcg

  • Iodized salt, about ¼ tsp: 76 mcg

  • Pasta, enriched, boiled in water with iodized salt, 1 cup: 36 mcg

  • Egg, hard boiled, 1 large: 26 mcg

  • Cheddar cheese, 1 oz: 14 mcg

  • Shrimp, cooked, 3 oz: 13 mcg

  • Tuna, canned in water, 3 oz: 7 mcg

  • Soy beverage, 1 cup: 7 mcg1

*Children under 1 year should not drink cow’s milk. Read more here: How Do I Introduce Milk to my Toddler

Recipe and meal ideas to help increase iodine

Have some fun and try out new recipes that are rich in iodine! Remember to provide foods to your child in the texture they can handle. Many of these recipes can be mashed if a softer texture is needed!

Crispy Cumin White Fish with Pineapple & Avocado Chunks And Cilantro Rice

Fruit & Yogurt Pops * Using plain whole milk Greek yogurt will boost iodine content in this recipe

Fluffy Spinach Scrambled Eggs

Pasta with Kale and Spinach Pesto *Using pasta made with enriched flour will help boost iodine content

Seek out supplements if needed

Because iodine needs greatly increase during pregnancy and lactation, it may be important to find a supplement that contains this mineral. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as American Thyroid Association recommend a supplement that contains 150 mcg of iodine during pregnancy and breastfeeding.11,14

Note that not all pre- or post- natal supplements contain this mineral, so always check labels. And of course, speak with your doctor before starting any supplement.

Know your risk for thyroid deficiency

If you are over 30 years old, have a family history of thyroid disease, hypothyroidism, or goiter; have type 1 diabetes; or have experienced infertility or have a history of miscarriage or preterm delivery, you may be at an increased risk for thyroid deficiency.15,16,1718

Speak with your doctor if you have any questions about your iodine intake or thyroid function.

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Meal Plan: Key Nutrients of Pregnancy

Meal Plan: Getting the Right Nutrition while Breastfeeding

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