Should I avoid organic milk when I’m pregnant?

12566 Dr Fysh - Jan 14, 2016

If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, you can’t have failed to notice recent news stories about organic milk and iodine. There were reports in the media that women who drink organic milk might be putting their babies ‘at risk’ because researchers had found lower levels of iodine in organic milk.

So is this true and should you be worried?

Iodine is needed for the healthy function of the thyroid gland. Thyroid hormones are needed for the development of the brain and the spinal cord in an unborn baby. That means iodine is important when you’re expecting and continues to be important throughout life.

For many years, in the UK, the main source of iodine has been dairy products. Supplements are given to dairy cows to boost levels of iodine and other minerals in their milk. Organic herds have traditionally been fed fewer supplements and therefore have less iodine in their milk, especially in summer when they are grazing in open pasture. What the new research found was that iodine levels in organic milk were also lower in winter. 

The alarming headlines suggested that the lower iodine levels found in organic milk could potentially affect the IQ of your baby. This claim was based on previous research that found seriously reduced iodine intake during pregnancy could affect a baby’s brain development.

The NHS has dismissed this story saying that although the study did indeed find that organic cows produced milk with about a third less iodine in it, the levels were still enough to meet recommended intake levels.

The organic milk industry has also strongly disagreed with the suggestions that babies could be harmed, pointing out that recently, iodine supplements have been increased to organic herds meaning the levels are higher than those found in this study. They also say that organic milk has other health benefits such as more omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E.

The NHS says: “The possible benefits and drawbacks of organic versus non-organic farming methods have often been debated. There is no firm evidence that organic foods offer any health benefits. The choice about whether or not to go organic is often prompted by ethical concerns about animals and the environment. Pregnant and breastfeeding women still have this option – there is no evidence that drinking organic milk could harm an unborn baby.”

It goes on to say that if you do drink organic milk it is likely to contain less iodine so you may need to balance your intake through other sources including other dairy products like yoghurt as well as eggs and fish. 

The media headlines give the impression the study found evidence that organic milk can harm babies' development. This is not the case. While it is true iodine is needed for the development of a healthy brain and nervous system, this study only compared the iodine content of a sample of different milks. It didn't look at any health outcomes for babies whose mothers drank organic or non-organic milk during pregnancy.


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About Dr Fysh

Dr Fysh

Dr Fysh is one of the country’s leading consultant paediatricians, currently a consultant at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health and the Royal College of Physicians. Having experienced first-hand the suffering caused by serious medical conditions to babies and young children and the emotional and financial strain that this can place on parents on a daily basis. He joined the board of directors as Chief Medical Officer and has been instrumental in the building of the NurtureFirst product. 

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