By: Amanda Belo
The beginning stages of motherhood are hard work from preconception to pregnancy to delivery. There is so much to learn! You and your partner have to take teamwork to another level and deal with the physical, mental, and emotional changes that come with the hormonal fluctuations. Plus, you have to find ways to rest somewhere between the hourly feeding schedule. It’s an overwhelming and exciting time, and new mothers can get caught up, forgetting a key part of their new role: nourishing their own bodies to breastfeed.
Often overlooked but of equal importance, moms who choose to breastfeed must continue to get enough essential nutrients to support not only their health but their baby’s as well. Lactating mothers nutritional needs are similar to the needs they had while pregnant. New mothers require 500 more calories per day, and that number may increase for mothers who are breastfeeding more than one infant, are underweight, or exercise vigorously.1
Breastfeeding v.s. Formula Feeding
So, what is the best nutrition source for infants? Many major health organizations including World Health Organization, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , American Medical Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics favor breastfeeding over formula feeding if the mother is able to. They actually recommend feeding newborns breast milk exclusively during the first six months of life and encourage – although less exclusively – through the first year and as long as the mother and baby would like. For mothers, breastfeeding is also less expensive than formula feeding and feeding supplies, and it has been shown to aid in healing after childbirth, and provide a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.2
Breastfeeding Essential Vitamins
You are what you eat, but while you’re breastfeeding so is your baby. From breast milk, a baby’s growth and development is affected by a number of healthy vitamins and minerals you consume. According to the Office on Women’s Health, research shows that babies who are breastfed have lower risks of various illnesses including SIDS, type 2 diabetes, asthma and ear infections. Another benefit of breast milk for babies is that the cells Another benefit of breast milk is that the cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk actually change to meet the needs of the baby!
Here are a few recommended essential nutrients for breastfeeding mothers that can be consumed through food sources, or taken as supplements.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
If taken during the prenatal period, studies have shown that the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, may lower the risk of post-partum depression in new mothers. It has also been shown to lower the risk of pre-term birth. Additionally, DHA makes breast milk and supports the development of the baby’s brain, eyes, and central nervous system.3
Folic Acid/Folate (Vitamin B9)
Folic acid helps with the development of the baby’s nervous system (prevention of neural tube defects).5 Folic acid has also been shown to help with symptoms of postpartum depression in the mother. Additionally, folic acid helps your body make new cells and DNA.4
Calcium is needed for bone strength and density. Women lose bone density when they begin nursing. It is recommended that a breastfeeding mother get about 1,000 mg of calcium/day.5
Iron aids in carrying oxygen to the blood. Babies typically get enough iron4, but deficiency is common in women; particularly if meat is not in their diet, or if blood loss occurred during labor6. One in five women suffer from anemia after birth.7
Vitamin A passes through breast milk, so it is important to keep getting this nutrient from other sources. This vitamin helps keep skin, teeth, skeletal and soft tissue healthy, and also promotes good vision. The recommended amount for vitamin A is 1300 mcg/day.5
All stages of motherhood matter! Maintaining a healthy regimen from conception through birth is nutritionally valuable to both mother and child. Be sure to consult with your health care provider about any supplements you are taking or considering taking.