As a mother, when I was pregnant, the health of my newborn baby was the most important thing to me. I wanted to ensure that I was doing everything right. Having a baby changes a woman’s physiology drastically to allow for the development of the fetus. Eating the right foods, supplementing accordingly and getting an adequate amount of fluids is crucial to a baby’s healthy development and growth.
Pre and postnatal nutritional requirements vary and are one of the most important times that it is really necessary to know that you are taking the right types of vitamins and whole foods for optimal nutrition.
Vitamins during pregnancy
During pregnancy, women need more iron, folate, zinc, magnesium, and B-6 along with 300-500 more calories a day during the second trimester. An extra 500 calories a day in the third trimester and no extra calories during the first.
Vitamins after pregnancy
After pregnancy, lactating mothers need more vitamin A, C, and Zinc and less iron (as menstruation ceases during lactation) along with 450-500 more calories a day. The caloric intake is general and will vary from woman to woman as there are many other variables to consider.
Calories are easily obtained from food but the nutrient amounts can be somewhat difficult to get from food alone so it’s best to play it safe and supplement with vitamins.
Below is a list of the best vitamins for breastfeeding moms along with food tips that will ensure the proper growth and development of your baby.
Supplements & nutrition for breastfeeding mothers
1. Prenatal Vitamins
Prenatal vitamin supplements are a complex of vitamins and minerals specifically made for pregnant women but is also beneficial to the lactating mother. Prenatals are just like age and gender-specific daily vitamins. There are certain nutrient counts that are much higher or lower to coincide with the needs of a growing fetus. Supplementing with prenatal vitamins will contribute to a nutrient-dense milk flow while supporting the mother’s immunity as well.
2. Omega 3
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid (EFA) and a very important component in breast milk. Omega 3 fish oil supplements are made up of 2 parts, EPA and DHA. DHA, in particular, plays a role in the development of the baby’s central nervous system, brain, eyes and immune system.
This will reduce the chances of short attention spans and delayed developmental learning. According to the US National Library of Medicine, it has been proven that Omega 3 can reduce and alleviate the symptoms of children who suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD) you can read about it here, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4968854/.
It is recommended that EFA’s be supplemented with during pregnancy and lactation as a preventative to support the baby’s mental development.
Probiotics are the gentlest and safest way to keep a mother’s immune system strong and bowels regular. Regular bowel movements allow for better nutrient absorption which in turn leaves vitamins more readily available to the lactating baby. Probiotics are also a great way to build the baby’s immune system during lactation which can prevent colds, bacterial infections, and colic. You can read more about the benefits of Probiotics for babies here, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5974413/. A mother can supplement with probiotics or she can give it directly to her baby. Consult with your pharmacist on the right strains and live bacterial count to suit you and your baby’s needs.
4. B Vitamins & Folic Acid
Studies have shown that B complex depletion is common during pregnancy and lactation. Supplementing with B vitamins (especially Folic Acid) will help the baby maintain healthy birth weight and is also a great vitamin for energy in mothers.
Supplementation will also prevent metabolic disorders in mothers. Studies have shown that supplementation with Folic Acid (also a B vitamin) during pregnancy helps to prevent low birth weight and neural tube defects of the brain, spine and spinal cord.
The amazing benefits of B vitamins will keep the nursing mother energized and strong as she passes on those same benefits to the baby during lactation. You can read more about it here. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4275593/
5. Red Raspberry Leaves
There are a plethora of safe and effective herbal teas and supplements that can be taken during and after pregnancy. I personally drank Red Raspberry Leaves all throughout my pregnancy and lactation. It is rich in vitamins C, E, Calcium and other minerals. It is especially high in chelated iron (which is easily absorbed) and increases the flow of breastmilk while restoring the reproductive system after childbirth. Did I mention it tastes great as well?
Although some herbal teas are not safe during and after pregnancy, the American Pregnancy Association has marked Red Raspberry leaf as “safe” along with other herbs that can help aid abundant milk flow, check it out here. https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/herbal-tea/
6. Fluids and Hydration
Our body is made up of 70%-90% water and so is breast milk.
While breastfeeding, the need for fluids increases. Water is the best hydration and is known to help maintain a steady and abundant flow of milk supply which avoids an early dry up.
Fresh fruit and vegetable juices are also healthy alternatives but limit the intake of soda and concentrate juices as they are filled with refined sugar and can rob the body of its precious water stores.
7. Diet and Food
There is a misconception that you must eat more when pregnant. Although your appetite naturally increases as you eat for two, it’s not how much you eat that matters, it’s what you eat. When you stick with nutritionally dense food, along with lots of water and natural juices, you put your consistent cravings at bay. If you find you are gaining weight too quickly, then try to cut back on processed, calorie-dense food with little nutritional value.
After pregnancy, it’s just as important to maintain healthy eating habits and staying hydrated as the nutrients and fluids will make for very rich and nourishing breastmilk for your baby. Lots of whole grains, organic meats, and freshwater fish, green leafy vegetables, fruits, legumes along with nuts, seeds and water will give you and your baby sound health.
Lactating is such an intimate moment between mother and child. Knowing the right vitamins to take while breastfeeding and embracing healthy eating habits will ensure the healthy development and growth of your baby. Vitamins for women before conception along with breastfeeding vitamins during lactation is the best way to go about the right nutrition for you and your baby.
Dr. Dina Khairie is a medical specialist who has spent nearly a decade in key positions at NoorVitamins. After receiving her doctorate in pharmacy from St. John’s University in New York, she began her career working as a supervising clinical pharmacist in the community pharmacy arena.