The days and months after you give birth can be overwhelming. After all, you’re suddenly responsible for the needs of a tiny human being that is 100% dependent on you while you are simultaneously trying to recover from childbirth and all the physical and emotional changes that go with it.
In addition to caring for your baby, it’s also important to take good care of yourself. Proper nutrition is a vital part of this, especially if you are breastfeeding. When you get the right vitamins, minerals and nutrients, you are not only taking care of yourself, but you’ll be helping your baby get what they need to grow and develop. Let’s look at ten of the most important nutrients you need when breastfeeding.
Iron is a crucial nutrient for a number of reasons, mainly immune support, red blood cell function, and the proper development of the nervous system. If you keep your own iron levels up, your breast milk will be more nutritious and your baby will get those benefits.
Iron deficiency, or anemia, is often the cause of fatigue, hair loss, impaired memory and cognitive function, and general weakness. Some women develop pregnancy-related anemia and it can worsen after the baby is born. Therefore, making sure you get enough iron, and also take steps to make sure it can be properly absorbed should be a priority.
Vitamins that have 18 mg of iron are recommended, but not always sufficient for maintaining healthy levels. The body does not absorb all of the iron that is ingested. Vitamin C should also be a part of your diet to aid in iron absorption. In conjunction with an iron supplement of at least 18 mg, dark leafy greens and other dark green vegetables should be consumed.
2. Vitamin C
As described above, vitamin C is a necessity for absorbing other nutrients like iron. It also aids in the absorption of zinc and other minerals. Vitamin C is also good at treating inflammation and cold symptoms because it is an antioxidant.
The recommended daily amount of vitamin C for breastfeeding mothers is at least 120 mg, but better if it is around 500 mg. It should not be difficult to get enough vitamin C if you are paying attention to nutrition. It is found in many common foods like citrus fruits, cabbage, spinach, and strawberries. You’ll also find a lot of other foods are fortified with it, and supplements are easy to find.
Protein is a very important nutrient whether you are breastfeeding or not. However, for women in the postpartum period and those who breastfeed, protein is even more important.
Proteins are essential for creating cells for muscles, bones, and body tissue. That’s why increased protein can help a mother recover from the physical toll pregnancy and childbirth take on the body.
The amount of protein you need depends on your age, height and weight. The USDA has a calculator with the option to factor in your breastfeeding status and you can use to find out how much protein you should be consuming each day.
The protein in your diet should come from a variety of sources rather than just one. Protein is found in meat, eggs, seafood, tofu, quinoa, nuts, beans, and dairy products such as yogurt.
And while seafood is a great source of protein, women that are pregnant, trying to become pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid foods that may contain high levels of mercury.
4. Vitamin A
Vitamin A can help maintain a healthy immune system and fight infection. It is also essential for eye development. Often deficiency in vitamin A can be caused by digestive disorders that impede absorption. Talk to your doctor if you have a history of gut issues.
The recommended amount of vitamin A is 2300 International Units (IU). Along with choosing the right postnatal vitamin, you can get vitamin A from oranges, spinach, kale, oranges, and cantaloupe. Also, dairy products sold in the US are fortified with vitamin A.
5. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is important in the formation of red blood cells. It also helps break down fat and carbohydrates and is necessary for healthy brain function. To get enough vitamin B6 you can eat poultry, fish, bananas, fortified cereals, and whole grains.
6. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is needed to aid in neurodevelopment and continues to be important in helping the nervous system function properly. It is also important in the production of red blood cells, just like vitamin B6. Maintaining adequate B12 levels can also be beneficial to those who have issues with anxiety. Because it helps ensure proper cell function, getting enough B12 can help with fatigue. This vitamin is also good for hair growth.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs. This means vegans and vegetarians need to be mindful of getting enough from an effective supplement. Choosing the proper supplement is important and it is recommended that breastfeeding mothers should get 1000 mcg of B12 daily.
Almost everyone is aware of the importance of calcium for maintaining good bone health and strong teeth. But calcium also plays a part in other important bodily functions. The circulatory, nervous, and muscular systems all require calcium to function properly. Intake of calcium should increase during pregnancy and continue at the higher level through breastfeeding. It is recommended that pregnant and nursing women get 1,000 mg calcium each day.
Low-fat dairy products like milk and yogurt are commonly known as good sources of calcium. Spinach is also a good source of calcium. You can also find products like cereals and juices fortified with calcium.
Iodine may not be a nutrient many people are very familiar with, but it is necessary for the production of hormones in the thyroid. Thyroid hormones are responsible for a host of bodily functions like metabolism, growth, and brain development.
Along with daily vitamins made for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, there are several foods that are good sources of iodine like iodized salt, seafood, and dairy.
9. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium. The benefits of calcium have already been mentioned, but vitamin D is an important part of the equation when it comes to getting enough calcium. Fortified milk, fortified orange juice, egg yolks, and salmon are all good sources of vitamin D.
Basically, consuming healthy carbohydrates after your baby is born will help give you the energy that you need while you are breastfeeding and caring for a baby. Make sure to get carbohydrates from healthier foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables rather than processed alternatives. This will help you consume more fiber and avoid excess sugar.
Typically a healthy, well-balanced diet and continuing to take your prenatal vitamins post-delivery can help ensure you are getting the right amount of vitamins and nutrients for both you and your baby.
At City of Oaks Midwifery, we are committed to giving women complete healthcare before, during, and after pregnancy. We will be there for you as you navigate things like breastfeeding and help you take the best care of yourself and your baby. If you’re looking for caregivers who respect your integrity and individuality, call (919) 351-8253 to make an appointment at one of our three offices in Raleigh, Clayton, or Cary, NC.