Pregnancy + Parenthood

What Nutrients Help Support Lactation?

7 min read
Many new parents find themselves wondering what nutrients may help support lactation. We break down some key nutrients that can be important throughout this period.
Many new parents find themselves wondering what nutrients may help support lactation. We break down some key nutrients that can be important throughout this period.

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Being a new parent comes with its fair share of learning curves. From navigating your newborn’s sleep schedule (or lack thereof) to getting the hang of feeding times, the months after giving birth can be as challenging as they are rewarding—to say the least.

For many, the postpartum period can be even more nutritionally demanding than pregnancy itself—especially when taking into account the fact that pregnancy draws heavily on vitamins and minerals. Put simply, after giving birth, ensuring nutrient needs are being met becomes that much more important, particularly if breastfeeding.

Speaking of lactation: If you’re feeling unsure about best practices, know that you’re far from alone. Many parents find themselves wondering what they can do to support their nutrient needs during this period, asking themselves questions like:

“Which key nutrients can be important throughout this period?"

“What is the role of a multivitamin during the postpartum phase?”

If you’ve ever pondered the above—or you’re just wondering how nutrient needs change during this phase in general—let’s just say you’ve come to the right place.

But first, food.

Before we segue into some key nutrients to focus on (and how multivitamins can fit into the picture), it’s important to start with some ground rules regarding best practices for nutrition. In general, we recommend following a food-first approach when it comes to meeting nutritional needs—that is, making it a habit to satisfy as many requirements as possible through a balanced, mostly-healthy diet, then supplementing the rest. Reframing the mindset around supplements can go a long way: Instead of seeing them through the lens of “making up for” a less-than-ideal way of eating, shift your perspective into viewing them as just that: supplements intended to help support nutrient needs, not counteract choices around food.

Okay, got it—now let’s talk about evolving nutrient needs.

Our in-house team and Scientific Advisory Board—comprised of renowned medical doctors, nutritionists, and scientists with decades of experience between them—pored over the scientific literature to identify certain nutrient needs that may be especially elevated during this period. Their research highlighted a few common gaps to keep in mind:

  • Vitamin A (as beta carotene): The recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin A during lactation is nearly double than that of pregnancy—and according to the most recent NHANES data, lactating women†† are getting about 65% of the RDA for vitamin A via diet alone, leaving an approximate 35% gap in intake. (1, 2)
  • Folate (as 5-MTHF): Though folate may be best known for supporting neural tube development during pregnancy, let us be clear: It’s an essential nutrient for everyone, pregnant or not—and up to ⅓ of people have a genetic variation that makes it difficult for them to efficiently utilize folic acid. The workaround? Choosing a cell-identical, bioavailable form, also known as methylated folate (5-MTHF).* (13)
  • Vitamin B12: Not a meat eater? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians supplement with vitamin B12 during pregnancy and lactation, so if you fall into this bucket, you may want to look into taking a high-quality, vegan-friendly form of B12. (3, 4)
  • Choline: People who are lactating have a higher need for choline than people who are not pregnant or lactating—and about 86% of lactating women are not getting enough choline from their diet. (2, 5)
  • Vitamin D: Recent data shows that approximately 89% of lactating women are not getting enough vitamin D from their diet. Vitamin D plays a host of functions in the body, including helping to support normal immune function, protein synthesis, and bone health—making it a crucial nutrient to keep tabs on.* (2)
  • Omega-3 DHA: Experts recommend that women consume at least 200 mg of omega-3 DHA per day during pregnancy and lactation; however, the most recent NHANES data indicates that, on average, lactating women consume only 70 mg of DHA per day—which leaves an intake gap of about 65%. (When it comes to supplement sources of DHA, we’re partial to vegan algal oil). (2, 6, 7, 8, 9)
  • Iodine: The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Endocrine Society, and the American Thyroid Association recommend that pregnant and lactating women receive a daily multivitamin that contains 150 mcg of iodine, which contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism.* (10, 11, 12)
  • Biotin and zinc: Women who are lactating have a higher need for biotin than women who are not pregnant or lactating, and the same goes for zinc.

(We recommend looking for a quality multivitamin that includes these key nutrients.)

Where do prenatals and postnatals fit in?

Let’s start with a quick crash course on the difference between the two: Prenatal multivitamins are a great way to support nutrient needs, before and during pregnancy. (In general, we recommend taking a prenatal multivitamin when thinking, trying, and when it’s time.)

Postnatal multivitamins, on the other hand, are ideal for helping to support the nutritional needs of new parents, especially those who are breastfeeding. As such, women should consider switching from a prenatal multi supplement to a postnatal multi supplement once they give birth, and continue taking one for at least six months postpartum—or potentially longer, if they’re continuing to breastfeed. (Note that regardless of whether breastfeeding or not, lactation naturally increases the demand for more than half of the essential micronutrients compared to pregnancy—which means that incorporating a postnatal multi is probably a good idea, no matter what route.)*

The takeaway?

The most reliable way to support nutrient needs is to eat a well-balanced, nutritionally-dense diet and supplement with key nutrients specifically tailored to support the nutritional needs of the postpartum period. And if you have any questions regarding lactation supplements, reaching out to a healthcare provider and/or lactation consultant is never a bad idea.

References:

  1. Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin A: Fact sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health, Department of Health & Human Services, 2020.
  2. USDA, Agricultural Research Service. Usual Nutrient Intake from Food and Beverages, by Pregnancy/Lactation Status, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2013-2016. 2020.
  3. Kaiser L, Allen LH; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: nutrition and lifestyle for pregnancy. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Mar;108(3):553-61.
  4. Kaiser LL, Campbell CG; Academy Positions Committee Workgroup. Practice paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics abstract: nutrition and lifestyle... J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014 Sep;114(9):1447.
  5. Office of Dietary Supplements. Choline: Fact sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health, Department of Health & Human Services, 2020.
  6. EFSA. Scientific opinion on dietary reference values for fats, including saturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, and cholesterol. EFSA J. 2010, 8, 1461–1566.
  7. Koletzko B, Lien E, Agostoni C, et al. The roles of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in pregnancy, lactation and infancy: review of current knowledge and consensus recommendations. J Perinat Med. 2008;36(1):5‐14. doi:10.1515/JPM.2008.001
  8. World Health Organization. Interim Summary of Conclusions and Dietary Recommendations on Total Fat & Fatty Acids From the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Fats and Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition. 2008.
  9. Zhang Z, Fulgoni VL, Kris-Etherton PM, Mitmesser SH. Dietary intakes of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids among US childbearing-age and pregnant women: an analysis of NHANES 2001-2014. Nutrients. 2018;10:416.
  10. Abalovich M, Amino N, Barbour LA, Cobin RH, De Groot LJ, Glinoer D, Mandel SJ, Stagnaro-Green A. Management of...during pregnancy and postpartum: an Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Aug;92(8 Suppl):S1-47.
  11. American Academy of Pediatrics. Iodine...New Information.... Pediatrics 2014, 133, 1163–1166.
  12. Public Health Committee of the American Thyroid Association, Becker DV, Braverman LE, Delange F, Dunn JT, Franklyn JA, Hollowell JG, Lamm SH, Mitchell ML, Pearce E, Robbins J, Rovet JF. Iodine supplementation for pregnancy and lactation-United States and Canada: recommendations of the American Thyroid Association. Thyroid. 2006 Oct;16(10):949-51.
  13. Prinz-Langenohl, R., Brämswig, S., Tobolski, O., Smulders, Y. M., Smith, D. E., Finglas, P. M., & Pietrzik, K. (2009). [6S]-5-methyltetrahydrofolate increases plasma folate more effectively than folic acid in women with the homozygous or wild-type 677C-->T polymorphism of methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. British journal of pharmacology, 158(8), 2014–2021.

†This content was created for informational use only, to share stories and provide education around this life stage. This information should not be read to recommend, endorse, or associate any specific products. Dietary supplements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.

††As a health company that adheres to standardized nutrition research—which is often reliant on assigned sex at birth—we face some unique challenges regarding our gender-specific messaging. Our decision to use gendered terms is, unfortunately, a result of these limitations in nutrition research. In cases where complying with the binary distinction is necessary for scientific accuracy purposes, we want to make it very clear that we recognize a person’s gender identity might differ from their assigned sex.

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