Taking Supplements While Breastfeeding

Many new mothers wonder if they need to take certain supplements or vitamins while breastfeeding to ensure their baby is healthy. In most cases, moms don't need to take vitamins, although they aren't likely to hurt your baby. Some mommies take vitamin D to ensure that their babies are getting enough of this essential nutrient for healthy bones.

Multivitamins & breastfeeding

Regular multivitamin and mineral supplements are also typically fine to take, although you should always talk to your doctor before taking any kind of supplement. In fact, many doctors recommend that moms keep taking their prenatal vitamins even after childbirth to ensure that both mom and baby are getting all of the nutrients they need. As long as you're eating a healthy, balanced diet, however, your baby should get everything he or she needs from your breast milk.

The "first milk"

The first milk mommy makes is called colostrum- this is an amazing resource for your baby (and is why short term breastfeeding is so important!). This pale yellow "first milk" is high in antibodies and helps your child build immunity to germs and viruses.

After colostrum, your body begins to make mature milk, which comes 2-4 days after giving birth. This milk provides the vitamins and minerals that are essential for baby.

Do I need to take any supplements while breastfeeding?

Many moms choose to take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D to ensure they are getting enough nutrients in their own diet, as babies get vitamin D from breast milk and very minimal sun exposure. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Our bodies make the vitamin naturally when we are out in the sun, but it is not recommended to expose your baby to sunlight due to the risk of skin damage.

Many babies need a vitamin D supplement because breast milk does not provide enough vitamin D. Exclusively breastfed infants need 400 IU of vitamin D each day. Babies who lack this vitamin could develop rickets, so it's important to consult with your pediatrician to ensure your little one is absorbing all the vitamin D he or she needs.

What supplements are suggested for babies?

The only supplements frequently suggested (and please only provide these to your child if recommended by their physician), are iron and vitamin D. Again, it is imperative that you do not begin your baby on a supplement regimen without first consulting your child's pediatrician.

Is it safe to keep taking my daily vitamin while breastfeeding?

In most cases, it is okay to take mineral supplements like iron, calcium and copper. These have not been known to affect breast milk levels. Water-soluble supplements like vitamin C have been known to increase breast milk levels. With any supplement, it is most important to speak with your doctor to ensure that your breast milk is optimal for baby's development.

What about prenatal/postnatal vitamins?

Some women choose to continue taking prenatal vitamins after childbirth. Pediatricians usually recommend that mothers continue taking a daily prenatal vitamin supplement to ensure the proper nutritional balance for both mom and baby. Since prenatal vitamins have folate, which prevents anemia, it's a good idea to continue taking them after you give birth for added health benefits to you and baby. A multivitamin can also be taken alongside a folate supplement for added benefits.

It's also important to remember to eat calcium-rich foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese and dark green leafy vegetables while breastfeeding.

Can a certain diet increase the nutrients in my breast milk?

You should be maintaining a healthy, balanced diet full of starchy foods, fruits, vegetables, lean meats like salmon, and low-fat dairy like milk and yogurt. Regulate your caffeine intake to around 200mg per day to stay on the safe side.

Herbal teas are safe while breastfeeding in most cases, although it is always best to check the tea ingredients to ensure the herbs are safe. You don't need to eat for two, but exclusive breastfeeding can burn 300 - 500 calories a day. If you find yourself hungry, add a few healthy snacks to keep your body satisfied. In most cases, you shouldn't need a lot of extra fuel.

Here's a basic breakdown of the nutrients you should consume each day:

  • 3 servings of protein
  • 1500 mg of calcium
  • 2 servings of iron-rich foods
  • 3 servings of vitamin C
  • 4-5 servings of veggies or fruits
  • 3 servings of whole grains/complex carbs

You should plan to eat around 2-3 servings of foods rich in Omega 3 each week, as this nutrient is essential to promote brain development. Wild salmon and sardines are both Omega 3 powerhouses.

What foods should I avoid while breastfeeding?

  • Processed foods (additives = negative!)
  • Raw fish, red meat
  • Raw onion
  • Cabbage, lettuce
  • Strong herbs & spices
  • High-fat dairy products, unpasteurized cheeses
  • High-mercury fish (limit tuna intake)
  • Excessive caffeine (can cause acid reflux in babies)
  • Artificial sweeteners (Sweet-n Low is bad, Stevia is OK!)

What if I do not eat animal products?

Mothers who are vegan or vegetarian might be at risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency. As long as you are maintaining a diet that fills your daily need of vitamin B-12, calcium and zinc then your baby will reap all the benefits of a healthy diet as well. Breastfeeding while maintaining a vegan diet is in no way harmful to your baby - it has been noted that vegans have very healthy pregnancies and children. For more tips on a vegan lifestyle while pregnant, check out this article by the Vegetarian Resource Group on Pregnancy and the Vegan Diet.

The bottom line

As long as you are consciously eating a balanced diet, your baby will usually get everything he or she needs to grow strong and healthy. Most pediatricians agree that the human body knows how to provide the perfect milk content for a growing baby. Be confident that your body is working around the clock to make the best milk possible for your little one.

Information provided in blogs should not be used as a substitute for medical care or consultation.