Breastfeeding can feel like a full-time job on its own, particularly in the early days when you and your baby are just learning how it’s done. And while it’s true that breast milk is complete in its own right with all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals a growing baby needs, it’s important for nursing women to pay attention to their own health and nutrition as well. After all, your needs and your baby’s are closely intertwined.
So, what vitamins and nutrients do you need when breastfeeding? Let’s find out.
Among the nutrients and vitamins needed when breastfeeding, calcium comes to mind naturally. Breastfeeding mothers need approximately 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day to support healthy bones, teeth, and muscle function. Calcium-rich foods like dairy products, leafy greens, tofu, and calcium-fortified juices or cereals can help you meet your daily needs. Supplements are also an option if you struggle to get enough from food.
Pregnancy can deplete your iron stores, and breastfeeding can make it difficult for your body to keep up with its iron needs. Getting enough iron is important for energy, immune function, and the production of hemoglobin; the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Good sources of iron include lean red meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, fortified cereals, and leafy greens.
Vitamin D is crucial for the absorption of calcium and the development of healthy bones for both you and your baby. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get enough from food alone, especially if you live in a northern climate or don’t get much sun exposure. Breastfeeding moms need approximately 600-800 IU of vitamin D each day. Supplements are a great way to meet this need.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain and eye development in babies. Breastfeeding moms can get these healthy fats from fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and trout, as well as from flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and some fortified foods. Supplements are also available.
Staying hydrated is essential for milk production and general health. Drinking plenty of water, herbal tea, or other non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day can help keep you hydrated. Try to aim for at least eight cups of water per day.
Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to nourish and bond with your baby. But don’t forget that you need to take care of yourself too! By eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods and taking supplements as needed, you can support your health and your baby’s at the same time.
Listen to your body and talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian if you have specific concerns about your nutrition. Keep up the good work, mama!