If you are thinking about getting pregnant while breastfeeding, you may have some important nutrition questions. On the one hand, you need to feed your growing baby. On the other, you want to optimize your fertility and improve your chances. Read on for our nutrition guide to getting pregnant while breastfeeding.
Critical Nutrients For Getting Pregnant While Breastfeeding
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Healthy People 2020 Objectives which set goals to increase the proportion of breastfeeding newborns. The good news is that breastfeeding is on the rise! Breast milk is optimal nutrition for your baby. It is not necessary to stop nursing while trying to conceive. Once you conceive, you may experience some changes in your breast milk, but this should not affect its healthfulness.
It is important to maintain optimal nutrition for both fertility and nursing. How can you be sure you get the nutrients you need to support nursing and to prepare you for pregnancy?
Vitamin D For Fertility
There are a number of studies looking at the effects of vitamin D among women going through fertility treatment. Many of these studies link normal vitamin D levels with higher IVF pregnancy rates and live birth rates.
Vitamin D While Breastfeeding
During nursing, vitamin D is important for your baby’s overall growth and development. For most women, breast milk doesn’t contain the amount of vitamin D recommended for their baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving babies who are exclusively nursing 400 IU of infant vitamin D drops each day. But for many moms, giving vitamin D drops is difficult since some babies don’t like the taste. In fact, research has shown that less than 20% of nursing moms give their baby vitamin D drops each day. Because of this low compliance rate, many nursing babies run the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
A more recent study asked breastfeeding moms about vitamin D supplementation. Surprisingly, over 85% reported that, rather than give the baby drops, they would prefer to take a vitamin D supplement themselves.
A study by Dr. Bruce Hollis helps us answer the question of how much vitamin D is needed while nursing. In this study, mothers took 6,400 IU of vitamin D daily. Their infants achieved the same vitamin D blood level as those given 400 IU daily by dropper. So, these babies received enough vitamin D through breast milk alone.
As your baby is introduced to solid foods, you can begin to take less vitamin D. A daily dose of 2,000 – 4,000 IU of vitamin D is now appropriate. At this stage, your breast milk is not the sole source of food for your baby. Your nursing child should be able to get enough vitamin D from your breast milk and solid foods rich in vitamin D such as eggs and fortified cereals.
Vitamin D During Pregnancy
If you get pregnant while breastfeeding, you can take 2,000 – 4,000 IU of vitamin D each day. This dose will meet both your nursing baby and your needs while pregnant. Research shows that 4,000 IU of vitamin D is safe and effective for achieving a normal vitamin D level during pregnancy.
Folate (folic acid)
Folate (folic acid) helps with many of the body’s normal processes. However, the most well-known benefit is that folic acid prevents birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine. These birth defects are known as neural tube defects (NTDs).
The neural tube starts out as a tube-like grouping of cells inside the embryo. It finishes forming 4 to 6 weeks after the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period. Studies have shown that taking at least 400 mcg of folic acid for at least one month before conception, and continuing through pregnancy, can significantly reduce the risk of NTDs.
Since your nursing baby relies on the nutrients your milk supplies, health experts often recommend a supplement to supply enough folate (folic acid) every day to support lactation.
Choline is important while trying to conceive and during pregnancy and lactation. This nutrient is a vitamin-like compound that supplies building blocks for other compounds in the body. It has many roles including cell membrane signaling and lipid transport.
It is important to get enough choline while trying to conceive. Choline works along with folate in neural tube formation. One study showed that higher blood levels of choline had a protective effect against neural tube defects – even among women who had adequate folate levels. Another study showed that women consuming too low a level of dietary choline, about 150 mg daily, had an increased risk for neural tube defects and cleft palate.
Although your body can make small amounts of choline, it can’t make enough to meet your needs. During pregnancy, these needs increase to 450 mg and go up to 550 mg during lactation.
Your requirement for choline is higher during lactation than at any other time during your life. Despite choline’s importance, few women get enough in their diet. National survey results show that only 6% of women in the U.S. meet the recommended amount of choline each day.
To get enough, eat foods rich in choline. In most cases, you will also need to take a supplement to get the amount your body requires. It is worthwhile to also structure your meals by choosing choline-rich foods. Here is a list to help you plan meals to get adequate choline through your diet in addition to a choline supplement.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid connected to brain, vision and nervous system development, and it’s important for your nursing baby. It accumulates rapidly in the baby’s brain starting during the second trimester of pregnancy and continuing until age 2. The amount of DHA in your breast milk depends on the amount of DHA you get in your diet or through supplements. Most health experts recommend a supplement containing at least 200 mg DHA during lactation. Studies show that DHA supplied through breastmilk may increase your baby’s DHA level better than giving DHA directly to your baby.
If you become pregnant while breastfeeding, you may experience changes in breast milk.
Between the fourth and eighth month of pregnancy, breast milk will usually change over to colostrum in anticipation of birth. It’s fine for an older child who is nursing to consume colostrum. However, be aware that colostrum has a natural laxative effect. Your older child may experience more frequent, looser stools. The colostrum will be present until the baby is born and the colostrum usually changes over to mature milk three to four days after birth.
If you are considering getting pregnant while breastfeeding, you can meet your unique nutrient needs by choosing a prenatal vitamin that supplies folic acid (folate), vitamin D, choline, and DHA.
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