Iodine for pregnant women – experts respond

Thursday (1 July) sees the launch of a new iodine tablet targeted at pregnant and breastfeeding New Zealand women.

The 150 mcg iodine supplement will be subsidised, and recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the New Zealand Ministry of Health for daily consumption by all women considering pregnancy, or who are currently pregnant or breastfeeding.

Iodine is an essential nutrient needed to produce hormones that are vital for the development of the brain and nervous system in the foetus, as well as in babies and young children. Pregnant and breastfeeding women in New Zealand are not currently getting enough iodine and need to top up their intakes to meet their requirements. This new supplement, along with consumption of iodine containing foods, will help pregnant and breastfeeding women in New Zealand to meet their iodine requirements.

We asked New Zealand nutrition experts for their view on the availability of this new supplement. Their responses are summarised below:

Jan Milne, Executive Director of the professional association for dietitians, Dietitians New Zealand, comments:

“Dietitians in New Zealand are pleased that the iodine supplement will be freely available to pregnant and breastfeeding women at no charge. The soil in New Zealand has a low iodine content, meaning that our food supply does not provide enough iodine in our diets. For most people, the recent addition of iodine to bread through fortification has brought our iodine intake up to a reasonable level. This is not the case for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding as they have even greater requirements. It is essential for women who are planning pregnancy to get started on the 150mcg tablet and keep taking it consistently until they stop breastfeeding. This will ensure that there is normal development of the brain and nervous system for their baby. Unfortunately damage through insufficient iodine is irreversible and reduces a person’s mental capacity. Dietitians NZ is very pleased that PHARMAC has chosen to make the iodine supplement freely available to pregnant and breastfeeding women.”

Carolyn Cairncross, Nutritionist at the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation, comments:

“Iodine is essential in our diet to ensure the thyroid gland functions normally. The thyroid is an important part of our body as it is responsible for growth, brain development and the rate at which we burn energy.

“It is the thyroid’s role in brain and nervous system development that is especially important for babies. Any woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding requires more iodine to make sure they have enough for both themselves and their baby. As it is unlikely that they will receive enough iodine from diet alone, a daily supplement of 150 micrograms is recommended from when a woman is considering pregnancy, while pregnant and for the whole time she is breastfeeding.

“Tablets containing this amount of iodine are now available in New Zealand, making it easier for these women to increase their daily iodine intake over this time.”

Helen Little, Dietitian and Professional Advisor, Women’s and Children’s Division, Canterbury District Health Board, comments:

“New Zealand pregnant and breastfeeding women can now achieve an adequate iodine intake via a new iodine-only tablet now available in New Zealand.

“Pregnant and breastfeeding women have increased requirements for iodine as they provide all the iodine for their baby. Iodine is an essential trace element and is needed by the thyroid gland. Iodine is important for normal growth and mental development of the foetus and young children. In particular iodine is essential for normal brain development, therefore it is important to have an adequate iodine intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“It is difficult to meet the additional requirements for pregnancy and breastfeeding with diet alone as New Zealand’s food supply is low in iodine. Some good dietary sources include cooked seafood, iodised salt, eggs, milk, iodised bread, and seameal custard. Along with good dietary sources of iodine it is recommended a daily supplement of one tablet containing 150(µg) micrograms of iodine for all women planning a pregnancy, during pregnancy and this should continue for the duration of breastfeeding.

“For further information, I would recommend that people contact their midwife, dietitian, doctor, or pharmacist.”

Further information

NHMRC Public Statement: Iodine supplementation for pregnant and breastfeeding women:

Information from the Ministry of Health on iodine status in New Zealand:

Dietitians New Zealand fact sheets on pregnancy and breastfeeding:

New Zealand Nutrition Foundation facts on iodine:

For more information, or to contact any of the experts above, contact the Science Media Centre on tel: 04 499 5476 or email: