Nutrient Needs of the Breastfeeding Mom

The process of breastfeeding is nutritionally demanding for a mother. During breastfeeding your need for many nutrients will increase even more than during pregnancy. The amount of milk you produce is not likely affected by the food you consume, unless you cut your calories drastically. However, the composition of your milk may vary with certain nutrients depending on your dietary intake.

Calcium

Though your calcium needs don't change during breastfeeding, calcium is still an important nutrient during this time. The recommended amount of 1,000 mg for women over nineteen is a must. If you come up short, your body may draw from the calcium reserves in your bones, which can put you at greater risk for osteoporosis later in life. It can also cause periodontal problems down the line. In addition to dairy foods, choose other foods high in calcium such as dark-green leafy vegetables, fish with edible bones, almonds, and fortified beverages.

B Vitamins

A few of the B vitamins deserve special mention, including vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin B6. The daily recommended intake for vitamin B12 increases slightly during breastfeeding. If you are a strict vegetarian, your breast milk might be missing adequate stores of vitamin B12. Ensure your prenatal or multivitamin contains adequate amounts of vitamin B12. If you are not a vegetarian, you most likely are getting enough. Folic acid, another B vitamin, is important especially if you are considering another pregnancy soon. Vitamin B6 increases slightly during breastfeeding, and women often do not consume enough. Chicken, fish, and pork are great sources of this B vitamin as well as whole-grain products and legumes.

Iron

Iron requirements are lower after your baby is born and you are breastfeeding. The needs go down to 9 mg per day for adult women until you begin to menstruate again, in which case needs go back to normal (18 mg per day). If you are taking an iron supplement, it will not increase iron levels in your breast milk. Anemia in nursing moms has been associated with decreased milk supply. If you are anemic, you should speak to your doctor about a safe dosage of iron supplementation. You can often improve your condition by making changes to your diet. Including foods with absorbable iron sources and including a source of vitamin C with these foods can help to bring up your iron levels.

Zinc

Zinc requirements only increase slightly from pregnancy to breastfeeding. You lose some zinc when breastfeeding, and your diet may not always be able to compensate for the loss. If you are taking a prenatal or multivitamin, it should take care of any zinc requirements you may not be getting.

Supplements During Breastfeeding

Some doctors may recommend continuing your prenatal supplement through breastfeeding. You can get enough nutrients through the foods you eat if you consistently make good choices. If you come up short on your calories or nutrients, your breast milk is usually still sufficient for supporting your baby's proper growth and development. Unless you are severely malnourished, your breast milk will provide what the infant requires. However, this will be at the expense of your own nutrient reserves. Keep in mind that vitamin and mineral supplements should never be used to make up for poor eating habits.

Essential Fluids

You need to drink lots of fluids and stay well hydrated while breastfeeding. A hormone called oxytocin that is released by your body during breastfeeding tends to make you thirsty. Although fluids will not directly affect your milk supply, it is still recommended to drink at least eight to twelve glasses of water each day.

Can I exercise while I am breastfeeding?

It is safe to exercise at a moderate level after breastfeeding is well established. Aerobic exercise at 60 to 70 percent of your maximal heart rate seems to be safe and has no adverse affects on breastfeeding or milk production. However, strenuous exercise that results in lactic acid production may cause breast milk to taste sour to babies. This can happen up to ninety minutes after exercise, so plan breastfeeding sessions accordingly. Also keep in mind that you may need more calories and more fluids according to your level and frequency of exercise.

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