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Breastfeeding can present many nutritional challenges for mothers as they recover from pregnancy and birth, and meet their child’s needs. The supply of some nutrients through breast milk is dependent on the nutrient levels of the mother. Whereas with other nutrients, the body will take as much as it needs for the baby, which can deplete the levels of the mother. This depletion of nutrients can lead to low energy levels or fatigue, frequent illnesses or infections, slow healing, low moods, hair loss and other symptoms that aren’t helpful when looking after a baby.
As babies are reliant on breastmilk or formula for the first six months of their life, it is important to meet their nutritional needs! Here are 10 nutrients all breastfeeding mamas need to be aware of:
Vitamin D is one of the nutrients regulated by a mother’s supply, and many mothers are low in vitamin D due to the amount used by bub in the third trimester! It is important your doctor checks your levels postpartum against what is needed for a breastfeeding mother – not what is needed for the general population as you need a bit more to support baby as well. Vitamin D is made by our fat cells so exposing the stomach and thighs to sunlight is the best way to increase vitamin D levels.
Iron is important for your energy levels, and it’s another nutrient that your body will take as much as it needs for your baby, so if you’re not consuming enough, you are the one who will suffer. Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, breathlessness, and poor memory and concentration. So don’t be so quick to blame those symptoms on having a baby, your iron levels could be low! As a breastfeeding mama, you need to be having at least 9mg of iron per day. Iron can be found in red meat, chicken, fish, nuts, legumes and dark green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B12 levels drop about 30% by the third trimester of pregnancy due to the baby needing it for the development of its nervous system. Your little one needs vitamin B12 to support brain development and to produce healthy red blood cells. This is another nutrient that is dependent on your nutrient levels as the mother, so it’s important to make sure you’ve got enough! Red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products and nutritional yeast are all great sources of vitamin B12.
Breastfeeding can deplete your stores of zinc if you’re not consuming enough. This can reduce your immunity, increase hair loss, cause brittle nails and hair, reduce appetite, increase mood swings and reduce appetite – all the things we don’t want when postpartum and breastfeeding! It is recommended to consume 12mg of zinc per day when breastfeeding. The richest food sources of zinc include meat, fish, and seafood (particularly oysters) however if you’re vegetarian you can also find zinc in beans, nuts, and whole grains.
Choline is an essential nutrient in breastmilk to support your little ones’ growth, immune system and intestinal health. The amount of choline in your breast milk is dependent on your intake, so it’s important to be consuming enough as this is when your requirements are highest. Beef, eggs (particularly the yolk), fish, chicken, nuts, milk and certain plant foods such as broccoli are the best sources of choline.
Pregnant and breastfeeding mamas need more iodine than the average person to create the thyroid hormones needed to regulate your baby’s growth and the healthy development of their nervous system, coordination, alertness, sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. It is recommended breastfeeding women consume 150 micrograms of iodine per day through supplements as well as consuming iodine from a healthy diet. Seafood is an excellent source of iodine, along with bread, eggs, dairy and iodised salt. Please consult with a healthcare practitioner before taking supplements to make sure you’re taking the right dose and form for you, particularly if there are any thyroid concerns.
Selenium is an important antioxidant and, together with iodine, is involved in creating thyroid hormones. With more than 50% of pregnant or breastfeeding women living in Australia being iodine deficient, being deficient in selenium exacerbates the impact of this deficiency on thyroid function. Brazil nuts, seafood, and organ meats, such as liver, are the best sources of selenium.
Omega 3 contains the fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is important for brain and eye development. Due to the rapid development of the brain in the first year, babies and infants need a lot of omega 3! The international dietary recommendation for pregnant and lactating women is to consume 200mg of DHA per day. You can meet your omega 3 requirements by having 2-3 servings of oily fish per week or seaweed/nori, chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds.
Many people think of folate for pregnancy, but it’s also important when you’re breastfeeding. The body will take as much folate as it needs to give your baby through your milk so if you’re not consuming enough, you will become deficient. While breastfeeding, it is recommended to get 500 micrograms (or 0.5 mg) of folate or folic acid (synthetic folate) every day. Dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, avocado, beans, carrots, squash, nuts and citrus fruits are all great sources of folate.
Your baby needs calcium for its growing bones, and for now, it’s going to be getting it from your breastmilk. If your diet does not contain plenty of calcium, your body will use calcium from your bones to meet your baby’s needs. It is recommended to consume 1,000mg of calcium per day while breastfeeding (more for breastfeeding teens). Good sources of calcium include dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, sardines and salmon with bones, tofu, almonds, and foods fortified with calcium, such as juice, cereals, and bread.
If you’re breastfeeding and you’re concerned about your supply, nutrition, fatigue or any other postpartum symptom, book a consultation with Court.
If you’re interested in taking any supplements, please discuss this with your practitioner to ensure you’re taking the correct dose and form for you. This article is not intended to be medical advice and is purely for education purposes.