Photo credit: Tom Merton/OJO Images/Getty Images
Contributed by: Ethan Lynette
While it's wise to be cautious about what you put into your body while breastfeeding, you and your baby still may not be getting all the nutrients you need. Incorporating a few supplements in your daily routine can help. These supplements are safe and effective, and they can help you stay healthy while simultaneously supporting your baby's development.
Why you should supplement
Let's be honest: Being a new mother is difficult. You're tired. You're adjusting to a whole new schedule. And most of the time, you're more focused on your baby's needs than your own. There are plenty of days when you barely have time to shower and brush your teeth, let alone prepare a healthy, balanced meal for yourself.
The main reason you should supplement during breastfeeding is to ensure that you're getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. Supplementing can fill the gaps in your diet and help protect against illness and fatigue.
Supplementing can also help increase the nutritional composition of your breast milk. Research shows that a mother's diet affects the vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids in her breast milk, meaning if you improve those elements in your diet through supplementation, your baby will reap the benefits.
Finally, certain herbal supplements (called herbal galactagogues) can actually help promote breast milk production. Women who struggle to establish or boost their milk supply can often find assistance from a number of safe, natural supplements.
What supplements to include
While being a mom is a full-time job, finding the necessary postnatal supplements doesn't have to be. I recommend that breastfeeding mothers take a multivitamin tailored to the needs of lactating women, an omega-3 supplement containing EPA and DHA, and, if necessary, specific herbs to promote breast milk production.
Since eating a healthy, well-balanced diet every day is often a challenge for new mothers, many doctors and lactation experts recommend that breastfeeding mothers continue to take prenatal multivitamins until they've finished lactating to ensure that they're getting all the essential vitamins and minerals.
There are also postnatal vitamins available that include extra DHA, calcium, vitamin B and vitamin D, which are important to nursing mothers.
Helen Anderson, RN, and a certified lactation educator, says, "Nutritional requirements for breastfeeding mothers are even greater than during pregnancy — women are truly eating for two. The reality, however, is most new moms find it difficult to eat a nutrient-dense diet on a consistent basis. A multivitamin for lactating mothers can give their bodies the support needed to create highly nutritious breast milk each day."
As more people have recognized the importance of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) for proper brain and eye development in growing children, pregnant and lactating women have been encouraged to increase their intake of these healthy fats.
However, due to the risk of high levels of mercury in many types of fish and shellfish — the main sources of EPA and DHA — pregnant and nursing women will find a safer alternative in high-quality, purified fish oil supplements. These supplements deliver the essential fatty acids to the mother (and baby) without the risk of toxic heavy metals.
Many nursing mothers who face breast milk production issues are being referred to herbal supplements such as fenugreek, fennel seed, goat's rue and blessed thistle — or "all-in-one" nursing supplements like Nursing Blend. Available in capsules, liquid extracts or teas, herbal galactagogues have been shown to increase nursing mothers' milk supply within a few days. Consult your physician or lactation expert for guidance on the correct dosage.
Health and safety concerns
Multivitamins, fish oil supplements and herbal galactagogues pose no known risk to nursing mothers or their babies as long as they're taken responsibly:
- Follow the dosing instructions on the package or those given to you by your physician.
- Do not consume the product if there's potential for an allergic reaction.
Research the quality of the products you take (particularly fish oil supplements) and the production standards of the manufacturer.
Being a mother is a tough job, and it's not always easy to find the time to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. But if you're breastfeeding, it's especially important to get all the essential vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy — and your baby nourished through your breast milk. Supplementation is a safe and effective way to fill in the gaps and ensure everyone's nutritional needs are being met.
About the author^
Ethan Lynette is the partner for Fairhaven Health, a company that manufactures products that help couples conceive naturally and provides support to women throughout pregnancy and nursing. Fairhaven believes it's crucial to get to know its customers well and provide support and education to couples desiring to start a family.