What vitamins should I take when breastfeeding?
We can’t overstate the importance of eating a diverse, well-balanced diet in preconception, pregnancy and postpartum. For the most part, healthy eating habits should provide all of the nutrients you and your baby needs throughout the breastfeeding period. But certain increased nutritional requirements during lactation can’t always be met with food alone.
Here, we take a closer look at why you should consider taking vitamins while breastfeeding.
Best diet when breastfeeding
There are several important things to consider when planning your breastfeeding diet. Both your food choices and own body’s nutrient reserves regulate the quality of your breast milk. If your diet doesn’t contain enough of the B vitamins and choline, for instance, your baby won’t be getting adequate amounts of these, either.
That said certain nutrients are present in breast milk irrespective of your diet, such as iron, zinc, folate and calcium. If, however, you don’t get enough of these nutrients from the food you eat, they will be taken from your own nutritional reserves found in your bone and tissue, which may put your health at risk.
With this in mind, it’s recommended that breastfeeding women supplement with the following nutrients during postpartum.
In the UK, the Department of Health recommends all pregnant and breastfeeding women supplement 10µg of vitamin D3 daily. Vitamin D3 contributes to the normal absorption and utilisation of calcium and phosphorous, as well as the maintenance of normal bones, muscle function, teeth and function of the immune system, making it vital for your growing baby.
Although you can find vitamin D3 in a limited number of foods, including egg yolks, the best source is direct sunlight. But this isn’t always possible in darker, colder months. That’s why supplementation is even more important in autumn and winter.
If you’re on a plant-based diet, you can find vegan-friendly vitamin D3 made from lichen.
A regular intake of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is vital during pregnancy and breastfeeding. DHA intake contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age. DHA maternal intake also contributes to the normal brain development of the foetus and breastfed infants.
The best dietary sources of DHA are oily fish, like sardines, trout and anchovies. However, you need to watch your mercury intake when breastfeeding, so it’s best to limit your fish consumption to no more than two portions per week.
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, we recommend supplementing with a high-strength fish oil formula. However, steer clear of cod liver oil since it contains vitamin A, which can harm your growing baby.
Those who avoid fish or are on a plant-based diet can supplement with a microalgae formula that provides natural DHA.
Found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy, along with fortified plant milk and yeast extract, vitamin B12 is another essential nutrient at this time. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, your need for vitamin B12 increases. Vitamin B12 contributes to the normal functioning of the nervous system and normal red blood cell function, making it critical for your baby’s growth and development.
Ensuring a plentiful vitamin B12 intake will also support your energy levels and mood in postpartum as it contributes to normal psychological function and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
Since vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal products, getting enough vitamin B12 is particularly important for those on strict vegan diets.
Taking a quality vitamin B12 supplement will help meet your increased nutritional need during lactation.
Similar to B vitamins, choline is involved in your baby’s brain and cognitive development. If you don’t eat enough meat, fish, eggs and dairy – especially if you’re vegan or vegetarian – chances are you’ll be falling short in choline.
Supplementing with choline – which can often be found in a B complex – will ensure your baby receives all the goodness it needs when breastfeeding.
Vitamin C contributes to normal collagen formation for the normal function of bones, gums, teeth, skin and blood vessels, so it’s essential when nursing your baby.
Although you can find vitamin C in a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, supplementing with additional vitamin C can serve as a useful insurance policy throughout your breastfeeding period.
Abundant in dairy, green vegetables, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, calcium is needed for normal growth and development of bone in children. And your body will do everything in its power to ensure enough calcium is provided in your breast milk for your baby, including leaching it from your bones and teeth.
Lactating mums are believed to lose 3-5 per cent of their bone density while breastfeeding, so ensuring a plentiful intake of calcium in supplement form is essential.1 Supplementing with calcium can be a helpful nutritional buffer.
Iodine contributes to the normal growth of children. If you don’t get enough iodine during pregnancy and when breastfeeding, you run the risk of impacting your baby’s brain and cognitive development.
Iodine is mainly found in seafood and dairy. As such, those on restricted plant-based and vegan diets need to consider their iodine intake even more.
Supplemental iodine can help cover any nutritional shortfalls you encounter in postpartum when you’re breastfeeding.
Taking vitamins when your breastfeeding is no substitution for healthy eating habits; it simply act as an insurance policy to ensure both you and your growing baby receive all the nutrients needed for good overall health.
If you have any further questions concerning taking supplements in postpartum, please reach out to one of our expert Nutrition Advisors. Simply click the chat button located at the bottom right-hand of our website.
- Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Bone Health. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. (2021). https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/pregnancy
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Keri Filtness has worked in the Nutrition Industry for 19 years. She is regularly called upon for her professional comments on health and nutrition related news. Her opinions have been featured by BBC3, Prima, Vitality, The Mirror, Woman’s Own and Cycling Weekly, amongst others. She has also worked one to one with journalists, analysing their diets and health concerns and recommending changes and additions, where appropriate.