Prenatal Vitamins and Breastfeeding

Cecile LaRiviere

Posted on August 14 2015

August is National Breastfeeding Month. In honor of this we have interviewed Sherry Torkos, pharmacist, mom and author of The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine to get her insight on what new mom’s should know about vitamins and breastfeeding.

Why the recent push toward breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is a great way for mom and baby to bond and it undoubtedly provides the best nutrition for the baby. Research conducted around the world has found that babies who are exclusively breastfed for six months are less likely to develop ear infections, diarrhea and respiratory illnesses, and may be less likely to develop childhood obesity.

Is it necessary for a mom to supplement her diet while breastfeeding?

Taking prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding is a great way to ensure both mom and baby are getting essential nutrients for growth and development. It is very difficult to get all necessary vitamins and minerals from food alone, especially when it comes to vitamin D and folic acid. Unfortunately the nutrient levels in our food supply have changed diminished over the past several decades and even those who eat a healthful diet may be falling short of key nutrients. Women who are at at particular risk of deficiencies include those who are vegetarian or vegan, those expecting multiples, or those who smoke or have certain chronic diseases such as celiac disease, Crohn’s or colitis.

How does a prenatal differ from a regular multivitamin?

Prenatal supplements are specially formulated vitamins that provide increased levels of nutrients required to support a healthy pregnancy and reduce the risk of deficiency syndromes in both mother and baby. These nutrients include folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, iron and zinc.

What should a woman look for when choosing a prenatal vitamin?

Prenatal vitamins vary greatly in quality and the amounts of nutrients they provide. Read the labels carefully and look for the following:
  • A daily dose that provides 1 mg of folic acid, 30 mg iron, 200-250 mg calcium, 800 IU vitamin D and 100 mg vitamin C

  • Easy to swallow vegetable capsules

  • Free of unnecessary chemical additives such artificial colours (dyes), titanium dioxide and potential allergens such as dairy, egg, yeast, and gluten

  • A pretty pink vitamin may look nice but the colour most likely means that the produce contains added dyes

Some women experience upset stomach when taking prenatal vitamins. Is there anything that can help lessen this effect?

Women that experience nausea and morning sickness during pregnancy can look for a prenatal vitamin that contains ginger . Ginger contains active compounds called gingerols that are helpful in improving the nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy. Unlike the prescription anti-nausea medication used for morning sickness (Diclectin), ginger does not cause drowsiness or dry mouth.

Constipation is a common side effect associated with taking prenatal vitamins and this is most often due to the increased amounts of iron in the supplement. To minimize this effect choose a prenatal that contains ferrous citrate rather than other more constipating forms of iron such as ferrous sulphate. Ferrous citrate consists of iron bound to citric acid. Those with a sensitive stomach better tolerate this form of iron.

For better bowel regularity it is also helpful to increase water and fibre intake. Many women notice increased thirst while breastfeeding. During breastfeeding women should drink according to their thirst.

Are there any supplements that a woman should consider beyond a prenatal?

Yes, there is mounting evidence that omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are important for the development of the baby’s brain, eyes and nervous system.

These beneficial fatty acids are present to a small extent in various foods such as fish, chia seed, flaxseed, and nuts, but it is almost impossible to get enough through diet. While fish provided a great source of omega-3s, there are concerns with consuming fish due to the presence of mercury and other toxins.

Women should consult with their health care provider for a recommendation on a quality omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

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