Vitamins and Mineral Needs for Nursing Moms
From the Editors of Your Baby Today

If you're like many women, your diet may be less than ideal following the birth of your baby. You're tired, and busy -- who has time to plan well-balanced meals? A nutritious diet, especially if you're breastfeeding, is one of the best things you can do for you and your baby.

The good news is that breastmilk always maintains a certain nutritional quality, even if your diet isn't perfect. But the levels of some vitamins, such as vitamins B6 and C, and minerals, like chromium, in your breastmilk is directly affected by your dietary intake. That's why a nutritious diet is so important and why supplements can be a real asset.

Here's how to make sure you get all the vitamins and minerals you'll need.

Getting what you need from food

Though time and energy may be in short supply, it's still possible to follow a good diet. The basics should include:

  • 5 to 9 servings fruits and vegetables

  • 6 to 11 servings grains, breads, cereal, rice, pasta

  • 3 to 4 servings milk or other calcium-rich dairy products

  • 2 to 3 servings lean meats, eggs, dried peas, and beans

  • 8 or more glasses of water

Getting what you need from supplements

A vitamin-and-mineral supplement can go a long way in meeting the nutritional demands of breastfeeding. Making nutritious breastmilk will be your body's first priority, and it will use whatever nutrients are available to do so. If your diet isn't providing adequate amounts, a supplement will fill in the gaps.

The key to taking supplements is that you get just the right amount of vitamins and minerals, but not too much. Large doses of a particular nutrient can offset the delicate balance in your body and, in some cases, can actually be harmful.

While supplements can be helpful, they can't guarantee good heath if your diet is really lacking. Foods contains many nutrients, in micro amounts, that just can't be duplicated with a multipurpose supplement.

Most supplements do not produce any side effects if taken in amounts that do not exceed the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA). Iron when taken in amounts exceeding normal requirements may cause constipation in adults. If this is the case, take your iron as a separate supplement so you can gradually increase the amount, or break the pill in half, and take it in smaller doses.

Supplement guidelines

Consider these guidelines when choosing a supplement:
  • It should provide 100 percent of the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for the nutrients listed on the label; there's no need to get mega doses of any individual vitamins or minerals, unless recommended by your physician or dietitian.

  • General purpose vitamin and mineral supplements don't have enough calcium and magnesium to meet the demands of a breastfeeding mother. Ask your doctor if an additional supplement for those two nutrients is a good idea.

  • Avoid supplements with nonessential substances such as vitamin B15 and inositol.
If you're planning to take a vitamin supplement, it's best to set a specific time to take it in the morning, such as with breakfast. This way if you forget it, you'll have a chance to take it later in the day.

The content on these pages is provided as general information only and should not be substituted for the advice of your physician.