Nutrient needs during breastfeeding are different from nutrient needs during pregnancy or any other time in a woman’s life. Taking a postnatal vitamin supplement formulated for nursing moms, along with a balanced diet, will provide the essential vitamins and minerals needed for both you and your baby.
What are the most important nutrients to look for in a postnatal supplement for breastfeeding?
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for your baby’s overall growth and development.* Breast milk is generally too low in vitamin D to meet your baby’s vitamin D requirements. Most women do not get enough vitamin D from food and are not exposed to adequate sunlight daily. As a result, their breast milk doesn’t contain the amount of vitamin D recommended for their baby.
Sunscreen blocks the skin’s ability to make vitamin D. Therefore, if you are slathering on sunscreen, you’re not making much vitamin D. We are not advising you to quit wearing sunscreen. You want to protect your skin and, of course, your baby’s newborn skin.
Instead, you or your baby needs to supplement with enough vitamin D each day to meet your baby’s needs.
How much vitamin D is enough while breasfeeding?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving breastfed babies 400 IU of infant vitamin D drops each day.
The problem with this recommendation is that for many moms, giving vitamin D drops is difficult. Most babies do not like the taste of the drops and refuse them by mouth. Some babies still do not like that taste even when mixed into a bottle of breast milk.
Also, popular infant drops (such as Enfamil D-Vi-Sol) contain unwanted artificial flavors and colors. Moreover, the drops are not independently tested for content accuracy and purity.
Research has shown that less than 20% of families adhere to the recommendation to give vitamin D drops each day. This low compliance rate increases the risk of vitamin D deficiency in their babies.
A recent study asked breastfeeding moms if they would prefer to take vitamin D themselves rather than give their babies a supplement. As this What to Expect article explains, half of breastfeeding moms were not giving their babies vitamin D drops.
An overwhelming majority (88%) of women reported they would rather supplement themselves than give their babies vitamin D drops.
How do I make sure my breast milk contains enough vitamin D for my baby?
This question was recently answered by a study conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina by Dr. Bruce Hollis.
In this study, breastfed infants whose mothers took 6,400 IU (160 mcg) of vitamin D3 daily achieved the same vitamin D blood level as infants who were given the recommended 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D drops each day. In other words, mothers who took 6,400 IU (160 mcg) of vitamin D3 each day provided enough vitamin D to their babies through their breast milk alone.
The implication of this study is important because it gives nursing mothers a safe, simple alternative to drops. For more information about this study, check out Kelly Mom’s interview with Dr. Hollis.
If you are having a hard time giving your baby drops, or you do not want to give your baby drops, consider taking a postnatal vitamin with 6,400 IU (160 mcg) of vitamin D. This provides another option for making sure your baby gets enough vitamin D each day.
Choline is a B-vitamin-like nutrient that supports your baby’s growth and brain development.* Although you may have never heard of choline, it is one of the most important nutrients during breastfeeding.
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. In addition, choline is often left out of prenatal and multivitamin supplements because it is difficult to put into a tablet or softgel.
Be sure to include more choline-rich foods (liver, egg yolks, lima beans, fish, chicken, beef, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) in your diet. Eggs are one of the richest sources of choline. But remember, the choline is in the egg yolk, so eat the whole egg to reap the benefits of choline. Two egg yolks contain about 250 mg of choline.
Also, choose a lactation supplement that helps you meet your daily recommended intake while nursing.
3. DHA Omega-3
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3s are considered essential fats because they cannot be made by the body. They must be consumed through food or supplements.
DHA is important during breastfeeding because of its role in infant brain, eye, and nervous system development.* DHA is added to some infant formulas because of its known benefits during the early months of life.
The amount of DHA in your breast milk is directly related to the amount of DHA you get in your diet. Therefore, it is important to get enough while you are breastfeeding. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, trout, and mackerel are rich sources of DHA. Choose wild-caught fatty fish when you can, as they generally contain a higher percentage of omega-3 fats than farm-raised fish.
Most experts recommend that lactating moms consume at least 200 mg of DHA per day. As pointed out in this Very Well article, getting enough DHA during your busy days as a breastfeeding mother may not be realistic for most women. If you aren’t eating fatty fish each week, choose a lactation supplement with DHA.
Iodine is a mineral that is required for healthy thyroid function and nerve and brain development.* Healthy thyroid hormone levels are critical for brain development in children.*
Iodine needs increase significantly during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. However, some women may not get enough iodine through their diet.
Much of our sodium intake is from processed foods, which do not contain iodized salt. Additionally, many people replace iodized salt with kosher or sea salts, which do not contain iodine.
Foods rich in iodine include iodized salt, seafood, and seaweed. The American Thyroid Association recommends that women who are breastfeeding take a supplement with iodine. Choose a lactation supplement that helps you meet the recommended intake during breastfeeding of 290 mcg a day.
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