Postnatal vitamins & breastfeeding

By Madhavi Gupta, MD


Why are postnatal vitamins important?

Most moms understand the importance of prenatal vitamins during baby’s development. But once you’ve welcomed your new baby and are beginning to adjust to postpartum life, where do vitamins fit in and how do they affect breastfeeding?

Postnatal vitamins are specifically created to supplement your body’s nutrient needs after giving birth. Pregnancy depletes several nutrients in the body, including folate, calcium, and vitamin B6. If you’re breastfeeding, the daily recommended dose of many nutrients is even higher than it was in pregnancy. Good nutrition is especially important for breastfeeding moms since it helps support your body’s needs while you are supplying the nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop during these early months.

Those good habits you formed during pregnancy continue to be important. With the adjustment to a new baby in your life and home, it’s natural to sometimes feel overwhelmed and stressed, with little time to think about yourself, but a healthy diet, sleep, proper hydration, and when you’re ready, exercise, all contribute to your health and your ability to care for your baby. Postnatal vitamins are a good way to supplement those efforts and make up for any nutrients that are hard to get through diet alone.
 


What are the benefits of taking postnatal vitamins?

Both you and your baby can benefit. Here are some of the ways postnatal vitamins can help:

  • Support breastfeeding. Many women wonder whether it is okay to take a multivitamin while breastfeeding. It’s not only okay, it’s a good idea. The best vitamins for breastfeeding moms can help by supporting your body’s ability to produce milk, increasing milk supply to help keep up with your baby’s demand. Breastfeeding supplements also support your overall health while helping you provide for your baby.

  • Maintain iron levels. Postnatal vitamins can help you avoid anemia, a common concern when your body doesn’t get enough iron.

  • Improve mood. Postpartum depression and anxiety are not uncommon and can occur in varying degrees for many women. Nutritional supplements designed for your body’s needs can support better mood.

  • Sleep. For new moms few things are as welcome as restful sleep. Postnatal vitamins can help you get a good night’s rest and refresh your energy levels, making it easier to be present for your baby.

  • Sustain energy. Breastfeeding moms tend to experience dips in energy as blood flow is diverted towards milk production. Postnatal vitamins can help stabilize these fluctuations so that you don’t feel as drained by the end of the day.

  • Reduce stress. Caring for a new baby can be stressful. Taking the time to care for yourself and your own health needs can help you better care for your baby.

  • Improved digestion. Pregnancy and breastfeeding can put stress on your digestive system. Postnatal vitamins help improve your body’s ability to digest food and help prevent fatigue.

  • Better skin, hair, and nails. Another benefit to postnatal vitamins is how they can help improve your complexion and the health of your hair and nails, providing a boost to your overall feeling of well-being. 


What nutrients are critical for postpartum moms?

Try adding these key nutrients to your diet. And here’s what ingredients to look for in the best postnatal vitamins and nutritional supplements.

Iron:
One of the most important ingredients to replenish is iron. Your body loses iron during childbirth. When you are breastfeeding, your iron stores help supply your baby as well. Babies need iron for proper development and thyroid function. Anemia due to iron deficiency is a common concern during pregnancy and postpartum. The daily recommendation for iron intake for lactating women, ages 19 to 50, is 10 milligrams (mg). If you are unsure of the specific levels you need, have your medical practitioner use your blood test results to adjust the dosage for you (1).

Good dietary sources of iron include red meat, liver, clams, oysters, and green leafy vegetables. Vegetarians often need a good
iron supplement since it can be challenging to get enough from diet alone, especially when you are supplying iron for two.

 

DHA:
Omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, is extremely important since it contributes to your baby’s neurological development. Studies show that infants of mothers with a high DHA concentration in their breast milk have improved brain and vision development. Even for mothers who are not breastfeeding, research indicates that DHA can enhance mental focus, and reduce inflammation and the risk of postpartum depression (2). 

Good dietary sources include salmon, sardines, fortified eggs, and dairy. Most moms should continue to take a
DHA supplement after pregnancy because many don’t get as much as they need in their diet. For vegetarians it can be even harder to get enough. Vegan supplements can help fill in the gap.

 

Vitamin D:
Vitamin D supports the immune system, brain, and nervous system and reduces risk of postpartum depression and anxiety. There is increased interest in the relationship between vitamin D and postpartum depression. Researchers believe that vitamin D may be a convenient choice to correct serum levels safely and reduce the incidence of depressive symptoms. In fact, it’s great if you started early with vitamin D during pregnancy since healthcare professionals suggest that adequate vitamin D intake during pregnancy could help mitigate the depressive consequences of a postpartum deficiency (3).

Sunshine is a source, so getting out for a walk around the neighborhood with your baby not only provides a little exercise but some vitamin D as well. The best dietary sources of Vitamin D are fatty fish like salmon and tuna, liver, fortified dairy and orange juice, and egg yolks.
Vitamin D supplements help make sure you are getting enough of this important vitamin. Breastfeeding exclusively can meet the nutritional needs of infants for the first 6 months of life with the exception of vitamins D and K, which should be given to breastfed infants as supplements (4).


Vitamin B12:
B12 is required for proper red blood cell development, energy production, and helping to form our DNA. Studies show that babies with inadequate B12 levels are often more irritable, and have an increased risk for failure to thrive, developmental delays, and poor brain growth. When you're breastfeeding, the concentration levels of some nutrients in your milk, specifically vitamins A, D, B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12, fatty acids, and iodine, are influenced by the amount you are getting in your diet. A healthy diet for mom means a healthier diet for baby (4).

The best dietary sources for vitamin B12 are animal foods, such as clams, tuna, liver, beef, and salmon. You can also get vitamin B12 from fortified dairy and cereals. Vegans are advised to take a B12 supplement. 


Choline:

Choline is very important for infant memory and brain development. The need for this important nutrient increases during pregnancy and is highest in breastfeeding moms. 

The best food sources of choline are eggs and organ meats like liver. The adequate recommended choline intake level is 425 mg choline/day for women of reproductive age with adjustments to 450 mg choline/day during pregnancy and 550 mg choline/day during lactation. A postnatal vitamin can help ensure you are getting adequate levels (5).

Choline is a bulky nutrient, which is why it is impossible to put enough choline in a once-daily multivitamin to meet your daily requirements.  Eat choline-rich foods and bridge the gap with an additional choline or mineral support supplement that includes choline along with your postnatal vitamin.


Vitamin C:
Vitamin C can help support the healing your body needs after giving birth, whether you have given birth vaginally or via Cesarean-section. Since breastfeeding moms secrete vitamin C in breast milk, you will need to replenish the loss of this important vitamin. The recommended dietary amount for lactating women ages 19-50 is 120 mg (6).


Vitamin E:
 
Vitamin E is important for breastfeeding moms in order to keep your immune system strong. It also helps with the production of red blood cells, and can help lower cholesterol levels. Studies indicate that women who are lactating may need to supplement their dietary intake of vitamin E to achieve the recommended daily allowance of 19 mg. Research also suggests that a mom’s vitamin E supplementation can safely increase the vitamin E levels in her breast milk and improve the vitamin E status of her breastfed infant (7).


Calcium, Vitamin B6, and Folate:
 
When you are recovering from giving birth other key vitamins like
folate, calcium, and vitamin B6 are vital in the postpartum period because they help promote your body’s health. This is an important time to replenish your stores of these critical nutrients. If you’re breastfeeding, you may need even higher levels of these vitamins to support your baby’s continued growth and development (8). You’ll need to take a separate calcium product because this bone-building mineral is often too bulky to fit into a multivitamin.

 


How long should you take postnatal vitamins?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends taking postnatal vitamins for as long as you are breastfeeding. Some experts recommend continuing beyond that time, especially if you are planning another pregnancy. Your body will be better prepared for your next pregnancy if you maintain healthy levels of important nutrients.

For women who choose not to breastfeed, the recommendation is to take postnatal vitamins for at least 6 months postpartum to replenish nutrient stores (9).

There is a lot going on in those first months of a new baby joining your nest. Taking care of your health and wellbeing sets you and your baby up for the best.


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