Your Guide To Postnatal Vitamins, Breastfeeding Diets, and More
Being a child’s only source of sustenance for the first few months of their lives takes a lot of work. As the bonding of early morning feedings blurs into a weary routine, it’s easy to prioritize your child’s needs above your own. Trying to maintain a healthy diet on top of everything else can seem impossible at times, but thankfully even the smallest steps can help better ensure both you and baby get the nutritional support you need during these fundamental years.
THE BEST BREASTFEEDING DIET
Lactation requires a lot of energy, and some of your nutritional needs will be higher than usual during this time.1 Not only that, but some nutrients in breastmilk will be directly influenced by your diet. Here are a few nutrients that are worth noting and some general tips for achieving a healthy diet while breastfeeding.
Start With A Well-Balanced, Healthy Diet
Generally speaking, a healthy diet that meets all of the RDAs (recommended dietary allowances) for key nutrients should keep both you and your baby healthy. What exactly is a healthy diet? A variety of nutrient-dense foods from fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and protein foods.
Maintaining a healthy diet while breastfeeding also helps set your baby up for nutritional success later in life. Infants can taste flavors long before they’re eating solid foods.2 Breastfeeding is a chance to introduce your child to new herbs and flavors and help them naturally transition to healthier foods as they grow older.2
Be Sure About Your Vitamin B12 Intake
This tip is true for any mom, but especially those who follow a loose or strict vegan or vegetarian diets. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that supports a ton of bodily functions including helping convert the food you eat into cellular energy and supporting red blood cell formation and normal nervous system functions. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal byproducts or fortified foods, which is why B12 supplementation is often recommended for anyone following a vegan or vegetarian diet. A vitamin B12 deficiency in infants can impair brain development and cause neurological problems.1 It’s recommended women who are breastfeeding consume 2.8 mcg/day of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 can be found in:3
- Skim milk
- Brie cheese
See What You Can Do About Your Vitamin C Intake
Your vitamin C requirement during breastfeeding is higher than any other life stage. How much vitamin C in your diet can affect how much vitamin C is found in your breastmilk.1 Vitamin C is one main antioxidant in breastmilk that helps build and support the baby’s immune system.1 It’s recommended women who are breastfeeding consume at least 120 mg / day of vitamin C to maximize how much of this crucial nutrient the baby gets from breastmilk.1
Vitamin C can be found in:4
- Red bell peppers
- Brussel sprouts
Check Up On Your Choline Too
If you haven’t heard of choline yet, you’re not alone. While this nutrient is widely recognized among the nutritional science communities, it has yet to have its time in the spotlight in the general public. Choline is an essential nutrient required in your diet during breastfeeding to ensure adequate choline concentrations in breast milk. It is an essential nutrient needed for infant development and helps support baby’s brain health.1 It’s recommended women who are breastfeeding consume at least 500 mg/day of choline.1
Choline can be found in small amounts in:5
- Brussel sprouts
- Skim milk
- Peanut butter
Do A Double Take On Your Vitamin D Intake
The amount of vitamin D in your breastmilk is dependent on the amount of vitamin D in your body.1 This sunshine vitamin helps support bone, teeth, muscle, and immune health for both baby and mother. But vitamin D isn’t found in a lot of foods, and sun exposure is rather hard to come by, therefore the American Academy Pediatrics (AAP) recommends 400 IU vitamin D supplementation for all breastfed babies.6 It’s recommended moms who are breastfeeding get at least 20–40 mcg (1000–2000 IU) of vitamin D supplementation daily.7
Keep An Eye On Your Iodine
Iodine is a critical nutrient that supports the neurological development of your growing baby.8 Most of the time, mineral concentrations in breastmilk aren’t affected by your diet, but iodine is an exception.1 Iodine needs are increased during lactation, so it’s important to keep an eye on your iodine intake to ensure both you and baby are getting enough of this important nutrient. It’s recommended women who are breastfeeding consume at least 290 mcg/day of iodine.1 Since mom’s diet is often low in iodine, it is recommended that postnatal supplements contain at least 150 mcg iodine.9
Iodine can be found in:10
- Salt (iodized)
- Fish sticks
- Cow’s milk
- Boiled egg
- Baked potatoes with peel
- Turkey breast
Stay Hydrated All The Way
Staying hydrated is an important part of any healthy diet, but especially so while breastfeeding. Making breastmilk requires a lot of water. Women who are nursing should be drinking roughly 16 cups of water each day.11 That’s 128 fluid ounces, which seems like a lot of water, but a lot of that goes straight into making breastmilk. A common tip for staying hydrated is to drink a large glass of water each time you breastfeed.11
FOODS TO AVOID WHILE BREASTFEEDING
There isn’t too much of a difference between the foods you should eat before, during, and after baby to stay healthy. But there are some foods you should avoid or think twice about consuming while breastfeeding.
Choose Your Seafood Wisely
Fish oils contain some seriously good nutrients for both you and baby, like omega-3 fatty acids. They can help support your heart and brain health, while also supporting your child’s fetal brain and eye development.12 But fish can also contain high levels of mercury that can harm a baby’s developing nervous system.12
If you’re going to hit the recommended 8–12 ounces of seafood per week, try to avoid eating swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish.13 And stick instead to lower-mercury fish options such as salmon, sardines, freshwater trout, and light canned tuna.12
Enjoy Limited Amounts Of Coffee While Breastfeeding
We’ve got good news for you! Although small amounts of caffeine can pass from mom to baby, according to the CDC, drinking 2-3 cups of coffee or less each day usually does not affect your infant’s sleeping patterns.8
However—if your baby experiences trouble sleeping, fussiness, or irritability—it can help to take a look at your overall caffeine intake.8 We aren’t just talking about coffee and tea here. Caffeine can be found in sodas, energy drinks, and even chocolate.8
Keep Avoiding Alcohol
Alcohol in any quantity in breast milk is considered unhealthy for infants.13 It’s best to continue avoiding booze altogether while breastfeeding, to ensure both you and baby stay as healthy as possible.
THE BEST POSTNATAL VITAMINS HAVE THESE 3 THINGS
Prenatal vitamins get all the buzz, but postnatal vitamins are just as important. The best postnatal vitamins should offer a range of nutritional support for both baby and you, and especially meet these three qualifications:
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) are the minimum requirements to help sustain life. These recommendations are broken down by gender, age, and life stage—such as pregnancy or lactation. Your postnatal vitamin should meet the RDAs or amounts recommended by science groups for most nutrients, and the best ones will take into account the unique nutrients needs for this stage of life.
Flip over that supplement label to see which nutrients your postnatal vitamin offers, and make sure it meets the following RDAs for lactating and breastfeeding women:1
- 35 mcg/day of Biotin
- 500 mcg/day of Folate
- 17 mg/day of Niacin
- 7 mg/day of Pantothenic Acid
- 6 mg/day of Riboflavin
- 4 mg/day of Thiamin
- 1,300 mcg/day of Vitamin A
- 2 mg/day of Vitamin B6
- 8 mcg/day of Vitamin B12
- 120 mg/day of Vitamin C
- 20 mcg (1000 IU) of Vitamin D
- 19 mg (28.5 IU)/day of Vitamin E
- 90 mcg/day of Vitamin K
- 150 mcg Iodide
- 9 mg/day of Iron
- 12 mg/day of Zinc
- 200 mg DHA
If you noticed that the minerals calcium and magnesium are missing from this list (and often from prenatal vitamins) there’s a reason. While both calcium and magnesium are important minerals during every stage of life, including breastfeeding, they’re also large and bulky minerals which can make it difficult to squeeze them into a multivitamin. If these nutrients are low in your diet, you may want to consider supplementing separately with either or both to make up for it.
This USDA Choose My Plate tool can help you customize your diet needs based on your breastfeeding choices.
Your postnatal vitamins should be vetted by an independent, third-party organization such as the US Pharmacopeia (USP). You can usually find this information on the label itself, or on the product’s website. Third-party organizations like USP often vet for things like purity, strength, and composition. Basically, does the product match its claims, and is it safe to take. These third-party organizations often do not have a stake in the product itself and are able to offer you that objective eye when it comes to the quality and purity of your vitamins.
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is critical for an infant’s healthy brain, eye, and nervous system development. You can get DHA from eating certain types of seafood, but many women avoid seafood while breastfeeding or don’t eat enough. Whether you choose to eat seafood or not, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough DHA from either your diet or your postnatal vitamins. It’s recommended women who are lactating or breastfeeding consume at least 200mg of DHA each day.14
DO I KEEP TAKING PRENATAL VITAMINS AFTER BIRTH?
Nutrient requirements remain high after giving birth, so a vitamin supplement can help provide the extra nutrients you and your baby need. While many women continue to take prenatal vitamin supplements after giving birth, your nutrient needs change as you move from pregnancy to breastfeeding. So, if you’re really looking to get the most out of your dietary supplements, it’s best to swap your prenatal vitamins for postnatal ones.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRENATAL VS POSTNATAL VITAMINS
A woman’s nutritional needs shift and change over time and that remains true between pregnancy and lactation. Lactation brings specific nutritional needs that are different from those during pregnancy. During breastfeeding, your requirements for folate and iron decrease, but your need for almost all other nutrients increase. Postnatal vitamins alongside a healthy diet can help fill any gaps that might occur from your diet and help ensure both you and baby get the nutritional support you need.
BREASTFEEDING BENEFITS FOR BOTH BABY AND MOM
Breastfeeding offers a range of health, environmental, and economic benefits for both you and baby. Breastmilk helps keep baby healthy and reduces mom’s risk of many health conditions. Here are just a few of the other benefits of breastfeeding.
There Are Unique Antibodies In Breastmilk Vs Formula
Breastmilk contains unique antibodies (immunoglobulins) not found in formula. These antibodies help protect a child from a range of illnesses and diseases. They help build baby’s immune system primarily through establishing healthy gut bacteria.11, 15
Breastmilk Adapts To Your Baby’s Needs
With the right maternal diet, breastmilk is a perfectly balanced source of all the nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop.11 It provides infants with an abundance of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, and water.11 It also naturally adapts to your baby’s nutritional needs over time as your baby grows and continues to develop.11
Breastfeeding Benefits Mom Too
Breastfeeding helps reduce a mother’s risk for many health conditions including diabetes, and both breast and ovarian cancers.16 It may also help with mood and decrease risk of postpartum depression.15
Breastfeeding Has Some Economic And Environmental Upsides As Well
Speaking of which, breastmilk formula can cost a family anywhere from $1,000-$4,000 per year, depending on the brand.15 But breastfeeding is free! It also eliminates the environmental impact of shipping and packaging formula—making breastfeeding easier on your wallet and the environment.
WHAT IF I DON’T WANT TO BREASTFEED?
The decision to breastfeed is an incredibly personal one. Many organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for up to a year as solid foods are introduced.15, 1 The World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to two years or more.1 But some women experience difficulty breastfeeding or are recommended not to do so based on their health conditions.1
Your decision to breastfeed or when to stop breastfeeding is ultimately just that—yours. Talk to your doctor about your options and how to ensure your baby is still getting all the vital nutrients they need to grow.
THE BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING AND A HEALTHY DIET
While breastmilk naturally provides your baby with the nutrients they need to grow, so much of those benefits rely on a well-balanced, diverse diet. Even if you’re unable to breastfeed, as many women are, there are still small steps you can take every day to tend to your own health as well.
You still need every nutrient, but if you’re going to focus on a few, it can help to pay special attention to the ones that are most affected by your diet. Make sure your diet provides enough vitamin B12 (especially if your diet limits animal byproducts), vitamin C, choline, and iodine. Postnatal vitamins can help fill the gaps that may emerge in your diet for all essential nutrients. Stay hydrated and avoid caffeine, high-mercury fish, and alcohol if you can help it.
On top of it all, remember that no diet is perfect just like no day is perfect. Keep working at it and celebrate all the small victories along the way—maybe even with a little glass of wine every once in a while. Just remember to pump first ;)
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
- Oregon State University. “Pregnancy and Lactation.” 2016. Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/life-stages/pregnancy-lactation
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Introducing Flavors to Babies.” 2019. Eat Right. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/breast-feeding/introducing-new-flavors-to-babies
- Oregon State University. “Vitamin B12.” 2015. Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-B12
- Oregon State University. “Vitamin C.” 2018. Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C
- Oregon State University. “Choline.” 2015. Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/choline
- Wagner CL, Greer FR; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2009 Jan;123(1):197]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18977996/
- Committee on Obstetric Practice. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 495: Vitamin D: screening and supplementation during pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2011; 118(1):197 https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2011/07/vitamin-d-screening-and-supplementation-during-pregnancy
- US Department of Health & Human Services. “Maternal Diet.” 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/maternal-diet.html
- Becker DV, et al. Iodine supplementation for pregnancy and lactation-United States and Canada: recommendations of the American Thyroid Association. Thyroid. 2006;16(10):949-951. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17042677/
- Oregon State University. “Iodine.” 2015. Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/iodine
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Nursing Your Baby? What You Eat and Drink Matters.” 2020. Eat Right. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/breast-feeding/nursing-your-baby-what-you-eat-and-drink-matters
- US Food & Drug Administration. “Advice about Eating Fish.” 2020. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). “Infant and toddler health.” 2020. Mayo Clinic. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breastfeeding-nutrition/art-20046912
- Department of Health and Human Services. “2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” 2015. 8thS. Department of Agriculture. Accessed on: April 13, 2020. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Breast-feeding Basics for New Moms.” 2020. Eat Right. Accessed on: September 4, 2020. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/breast-feeding/breast-feeding-basics-for-healthy-babies
- Westerfield KL, Koenig K, Oh R. Breastfeeding: Common Questions and Answers. Am Fam Physician. 2018;98(6):368-373. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2018/0915/p368.html