Do’s and Don’ts of Using Nutritional Supplements when Breastfeeding

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mother and babies

I’m Breastfeeding…can I take nutritional supplements?

By Dr. Jimi Francis, IBCLC, RDN, LD

Mom’s nutritional intake and the way her body stores nutrients create the ideal combination of energy, water, protein, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients needed to make breast milk the perfect food for baby. Research has shown that even mothers who are mildly malnourished produce enough quality milk to nourish their babies.1 But there are two people in this equation.  Who do we most often forget about?  You guessed it—mom.  A mother’s nutritional needs change when transitioning from pregnancy to lactation. When mom does not get adequate energy and nutrients from the food she eats, she can experience maternal depletion.2 Maternal depletion can cause mom to become fatigued, less resistant to illness or injury and even lose bone density.3  

To prevent depletion of body stores in lactating women, many doctors recommend the use of nutritional supplements. Clinical experience has shown that although parents do their best to maintain healthy food intake when a new baby joins the family, many are unable to do so, at least in the short term. Many new parents are too tired, too busy, and too stressed to expend much effort in food choice and preparation, especially the first few months after a new baby is born. Parents should know that nutritional supplements are a viable option.4,5  But there are some basic guidelines you should understand prior to taking any type of supplement. Moms should always consult their physician or nutritionist before introducing any nutritional supplements into their diet.  As a basic guideline, the following are some do’s and don’ts I often share with lactating moms:

  • Do use nutritional supplements in moderation. Large doses of some nutrients can be harmful.
  • Do use supplements as one way to improve nutrient intake, along with an increase in fruits and vegetables.
  • Do drink plenty of water when taking nutritional supplements. Drink between eight to 10 eight-ounce glasses of water each day.
  • Do take high quality mineral supplements with the highest bioavailability (most absorption). Examples are calcium citrate and magnesium aspartate.
  • Do educate yourself about nutrition. The more knowledgeable you are, the better able you are to model healthy food patterns for your children.
  • Do get plenty of exercise. An active lifestyle facilitates a healthy body weight.
  • Don’t use supplements to replace food. A healthy food intake pattern is the best way to get all the nutrients needed.
  • Don’t eliminate specific foods from your daily intake unless advised by a physician or nutritionist. It is important to eat a wide variety of foods.
  • Don’t take mega-doses (extremely large amounts) of vitamins or minerals. Some vitamins and minerals can cause toxicity if taken in excessive doses.
  • Don’t eliminate all fat from your diet. Do eat good fats in moderation, with most fatty intake being monounsaturated fatty acids such as in nuts and olive oil. Essential fatty acids linolenic and linoleic are critical for your health and that of your baby. The amount of fat-soluble vitamins in breastmilk is dependent on maternal fat stores and dietary intake.6

Surveys indicate that many people use nutritional supplements as a part of their efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle.7,8,9 In general, reports based on these surveys state that people who take nutritional supplements tend to pay closer attention to their food intake. If you decide to take nutritional supplements, continue with a healthy lifestyle that includes a wide variety of foods and daily activity. A healthy mom is a great gift to baby!

Mother breastfeeding baby

References

  1. Theobald HE, Eating for pregnancy and breastfeeding. J Fam Health Care. 2007;17(2):45-9.
  2. Winkvist A, Habicht JP, Rasmussen K. Linking maternal and infant benefits of a nutritional supplement during pregnancy and lactation. Am J Clin Nutr 1998;68:656-61.
  3. Kalkwarf HJ, Specker BL, Bianchi DC, Ranz J, Ho M. The effect of calcium supplementation on bone density during lactation and after weaning. N Engl J Med 1997;21;337(8):523-8.
  4. Dickinson VA, Block G, Russek-Cohen E. Supplement use, other dietary and demographic variables, and serum vitamin C in NHANES II. J Am Coll Nutr 1994;13:22-32.
  5. Chierici R, Saccomandi D, Vigi V. Dietary supplements for the lactating mother: influence on the trace element content of milk. Acta Paediatr Suppl. 1999;88(430):7-13.
  6. Olafsdottir AS, Wagner KH, Thorsdottir I Elmadfa I. Fat-soluble vitamins in the maternal diet, influence of cod liver oil supplementation and impact of the maternal diet on human milk composition. Ann Nutr Metab. 2001;45(6):265-72.
  7. AICR (American Institute for Cancer Research). Based on CRN analysis of detailed data tables of survey results, August 2000.
  8. Block G, Cox C, Madans J, Schreiber GB, Licitra L, Melia N. Vitamin supplement use, by demographic characteristics. Am J Epidem 1988; 127:297-309. 
  9. Council for Responsible Nutrition. 2001 Supplement Usage Patterns of U.S. Adults: consumer survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid. Council for Responsible Nutrition, Washington, D.C.