7 important nutrients when breastfeeding

baby's feet in mom's hands

Pumping and nursing for your little one is both an amazing and exhausting journey. But all the effort that goes into making sure your baby is getting the right nutrition might have you forgetting about your own health and diet. Your body takes from its own nutrient stores to make that liquid gold for your little one – so a healthy diet is a must!  

Here, we’ve rounded up the 7 most important nutrients for breastfeeding and chestfeeding parents.   

But first, why it’s important to get the right nutrients 

There’s a reason breast milk is referred to as liquid gold and natures perfect food. It’s packed full of carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals & antibodies – exactly what your growing baby needs to thrive! But all those nutrients that go into breastmilk need to come from somewhere. Your body drains your own nutrient stores in order to keep churning out that precious milk. So, if your diet is lacking, you may end up depleting your body of key nutrients and feeling tired and sluggish as a result. Getting the right nutrients is key to keeping your body feeling strong. 

1. B-Vitamins 

B-vitamins are a group of essential vitamins that play a vital role in your energy, brain health, nervous system, mood, red blood cells, metabolism and so much more.  It’s no wonder they are a key component of breast milk! So, make sure you’re restoring your stores (you need the energy!).Foods rich in B6 and B9 include beans, salmon, whole grains and dark leafy greens. Vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal-based foods like meat, dairy and eggs, so if you’re vegan or don’t consume these regularly, a B12 supplement is a good option.2   

2. Calcium 

You’ve heard it before: Calcium is crucial for your bones. But what you may not know is that you actually lose about 3-5% of your bone mass after giving birth and during lactation.3 Most people do replenish their calcium stores within a few months after weaning, but it’s incredibly important to ensure you’re getting enough from your diet or through supplements to keep your bones healthy and strong. If you’re younger than 25 years old, it’s even more critical because the calcium stores in your bones are still increasing!If dairy isn’t your thing, try adding soybeans, leafy greens, figs or chia seeds to your diet.  

3. Iodine 

Ever wonder why some salts are iodized? Hint: it’s not to give your baked potato some extra flavor! Iodine doesn’t occur naturally in your body and must be obtained by diet, so some foods are fortified with this essential mineral to help reach your daily needs. Iodine plays a vital role in the production of your thyroid hormones which regulate your metabolism and are essential for your baby’s brain development.5 Your daily iodine needs nearly double when breastfeeding. No need to get too salty about it though. Roughly 1 teaspoon of iodized salt can cover your daily needs, so just make sure to regularly salt your food. Dairy, eggs, and seaweed are also great sources.  

4. Iron  

Iron keeps your heart, lungs and muscles going strong by transporting oxygen throughout your body. While your iron needs increase during pregnancy, it’s common for iron needs to actually decrease when breastfeeding, mostly due to lactational amenorrhea- the loss of periods due to the hormone associated with breastfeeding.6 What’s more- although iron is essential for your baby’s health, adding more iron to your diet doesn’t increase the amount in your breastmilk. What does this mean for you? Getting enough iron in your diet can be as easy as eating dark meat chicken or steak 3-4 times per week. Eating vegetarian? Try adding some lentils or beans to your weekly repertoire.  

5. Omega-3s 

Omega-3s are an essential fatty acid that’s important for growth, development, mood and your overall health. It can’t be produced naturally from your body, so it needs to come from food or supplements. DHA is a type of omega-3 that plays an incredibly important role in brain health and nerve development. It’s believed that your levels of DHA have a direct impact on your breastmilk, so babies who receive higher levels of DHA through breastmilk may have increased neurodevelopment and better vision.7 Cold water fatty fish are rich sources of DHA, but if you’re not eating seafood twice a week, a high-quality supplement can help cover your needs.  

6. Vitamin D 

If you live north of the equator, you might have heard your vitamin D is low. This isn’t shocking because very few natural foods contain vitamin D, so it’s extremely difficult to reach optimal levels from diet alone. Yes, stepping out in the sun 10-30 minutes a day helps, but depending on where you live, this can be a challenge too.8 So, it’s only natural that your supply of breast milk has low levels as well. Vitamin D plays a vital role in both your baby’s and your immune system, bone health, mood and more – so it’s important to regularly check levels and take a supplement if needed. But if your vitamin D levels are within the normal range, it’s most likely the vitamin in your breastmilk is adequate for your growing baby too.9 

7. Zinc 

Zinc has been in the spotlight recently because of the role it plays in keeping your immune system strong. But it’s also essential for cell growth and repair. It’s incredibly important for development during times of rapid growth like pregnancy, childhood and adolescence, but about 17.3% of people worldwide aren’t getting enough.10 And breastfeeding can zap the zinc stores of the nursing parent, so it’s crucial to make sure you’re getting enough for your own health.11 Zinc is found naturally in eggs, meat and fish – it’s also included in many prenatal supplements.  

Besides calcium, learn about 6 other nutrients to support bone health.

About Laura 

Laura is a nutritionist and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Ball State University and a Master of Science in Health Sciences with a public health concentration from Indiana State University.  She is a competitive distance runner who loves to support individuals in achieving their goals.  

Do you have questions on how you may benefit from supplements? Reach out to one of our experts, or take Persona’s free nutrition assessment, and learn exactly what you need to take your wellness to the next level.     

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.     

This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional, or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information from this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal, or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this article.     

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References:

  1. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Nutritional Status During Pregnancy and Lactation. Nutrition During Lactation. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1991. 9, Meeting Maternal Nutrient Needs During Lactation. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235579/ 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, August 26). Vitamin B12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/vitamin-b12.html#:~:text=Vitamin%20B12%20is%20transferred%20through,will%20receive%20enough%20vitamin%20B12 
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Pregnancy, breastfeeding and Bone Health. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/pregnancy  
  4. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Nutritional Status During Pregnancy and Lactation. Nutrition During Lactation. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1991. 9, Meeting Maternal Nutrient Needs During Lactation. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235579/ 
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, September 2). Iodine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/iodine.html  
  6. Ares Segura, S., Arena Ansótegui, J., & Marta Díaz-Gómez, N. (2016). The importance of maternal nutrition during breastfeeding: Do breastfeeding mothers need nutritional supplements? Anales de Pediatría (English Edition), 84(6), 347.e1–347.e7. doi:10.1016/j.anpede.2015.07.035 
  7. Juber, B.A., Jackson, K.H., Johnson, K.B. et al. Breast milk DHA levels may increase after informing women: a community-based cohort study from South Dakota USA. Int Breastfeed J 12, 7 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13006-016-0099-0 
  8. Vitamin D, your baby, and you. La Leche League International. (2020, August 6). Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/vitamin-d/  
  9. Hollis BW, Wagner CL, Howard CR, Ebeling M, Shary JR, Smith PG, Taylor SN, Morella K, Lawrence RA, Hulsey TC. Maternal Versus Infant Vitamin D Supplementation During Lactation: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics. 2015 Oct;136(4):625-34. doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-1669. Erratum in: Pediatrics. 2019 Jul;144(1): PMID: 26416936; PMCID: PMC4586731. 
  10. CDC. Micronutrient facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/micronutrient-malnutrition/micronutrients/ 
  11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Office of dietary supplements – zinc. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/  
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