Maternal infection: could choline prevent adverse fetal outcomes?


An essential B vitamin nutrient, termed choline, can prevent differences in fetal brain development that often occur with prenatal maternal infections – including colds and flu – according to new research.

In the latest study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, a team from the University of Colorado (CO, USA) investigated prenatal maternal infections and the impact these can have on the infants. Previously, viruses such as influenza have been linked with differences in fetal brain development and a higher rate of neuropsychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder.

Author, Robert Freedman from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, commented: “Mothers want to give their babies the best possible start in life. Colds and flu are often unavoidable, even if the mother has had a flu shot. But colds and flu during pregnancy double the risk of future mental illnesses.”

The team carried out prenatal assessments of maternal infection, C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) and maternal choline levels. In addition, they assessed the child’s development, with inhibition of the newborns’ brain waves in response to repeated sounds indicating a potential impact of maternal infection.

The researchers discovered that newborns’ response inhibition decreased up to 27% when the mother had had an infection during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, however, this impact appeared to be mitigated if the mother had higher choline levels during this time.

Up to 75% of pregnant women consume less choline during pregnancy than recommended (450 mg of choline per day). Additionally, little or no amounts are present in prenatal vitamins.

Freedman concluded: “More and more information show that choline helps the baby’s brain develop properly. We found that higher levels of choline prevent fetal brain problems from developing, even when the mother is infected. Choline supplements in pregnancy can have a lifelong benefit for the infant.”

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Source: Freedma R, Hunter SK, Law AJ et al. Higher gestational choline levels in maternal infection are protective for infant brain development. J. Pediatrics. 208, 198–206.e2 (2019);


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