Each and every time I took one of my babies to their checkups with our family pediatrician, the doctor always turned the tables on me and asked me the following question: Are you taking your prenatal vitamins?
Sheepishly, I would shake my head because I was guilty of forgetting to take my vitamins yet again. Somehow, something that I had been so diligent about during my pregnancy seemed impossible for me to remember once the baby had arrived into the world.
Our pediatrician knew how important breast-feeding was to my baby's health, but he also knew how important it was to ensure that first and foremost, I was getting the essential vitamins I needed as a breast-feeding mother. After all, how could I know that the milk I was making had enough of the vitamins my baby needed if I wasn't making sure to take them myself?
It was a lesson in parenting that I needed to learn early, even though I had a lot of trouble putting it into action. Taking care of myself as a mother first is an important part of caring for my children.
If you happen to be one of those breast-feeding mothers who has trouble remembering to take your own prenatal vitamins while you're nursing, allow me to convince you with these very important reasons.
1. They ensure adequate levels of vitamin B-12.
If you happen to be a vegetarian or vegan and don’t eat meat, chicken, fish, or dairy products, you will need to take a vitamin supplement that has vitamin B-12 in it. It’s available in most over-the-counter multivitamins.
2. They support bone health.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding actually cause a temporary decrease in bone mass. Your body goes through a lot during this time and it's important to nourish it properly.
The good news is that bone mass comes back after breast-feeding and in the long term, breast-feeding doesn't impact bone health negatively. In fact, one study even found that having seven or more births had a protective effect on bone health for women. Either way you look at it, taking a vitamin will help support your bone health through breast-feeding and beyond.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 600 UI per day for all women of childbearing age. You also need vitamin D in order for your body to absorb calcium. It's a two-for-one deal, and you can't have one without the other. Which brings us to…
3. They make sure your baby has enough vitamin D.
Breast milk doesn't actually contain enough of the vitamin D that babies need to thrive, so it's helpful for mothers to take a supplement while nursing.
Pediatricians now recommend that all partially or exclusively breast-fed infants take a vitamin D supplement. But a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics actually found that breast-feeding mothers can take enough vitamin D to transfer adequate amounts to their babies through breast milk. They found that infants of mothers taking 6400 IU/day of vitamin D received adequate vitamin D through breast milk alone.
Our body makes vitamin D from sunshine as well as from food. Those long breast-feeding sessions inside might put you at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Adding vitamin D to your diet or from food sources can be very helpful.
4. They help prevent hair loss.
Does anyone else lose their hair while breast-feeding or is it just me? The fancy word for this hair loss phenomenon is postpartum alopecia, and it apparently happens to a lot of women.
Luckily, like with bone mass, the hair lost normally grows back fully. Making sure that you’re maintaining an adequate supply of the vitamins and minerals your body needs may help promote the return of those luscious locks.
5. They help you maintain proper levels of fatty acids.
Fat is not a bad word, ladies! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that nursing mothers take in 200 to 300 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per day to keep up that milk supply and stay healthy. Not all prenatal vitamins contain these, however.
6. They prevent zinc deficiency.
Studies have found that breast-feeding may deplete zinc stores in mothers and that depletion might even leave their babies at risk for a zinc deficiency, too.
7. They help you maintain your nutrition for future pregnancies.
Overall, a mother's body does a good job of supplying nutrition to her baby, but breast-feeding, especially based on what kind of diet she has, can still leave a woman at risk for vitamin deficiencies. This can include lower levels of:
- vitamin B-6
- vitamin B-12
Taking a prenatal through the breast-feeding period will help you maintain proper levels of all vitamins.
8. They ward off postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression has many different causes and factors, and while there will never be one proven way to prevent it from occurring for at-risk women, proper nutrition may play a role.
More specifically, research is suggesting that vitamins may be important when it comes to postpartum mental health. Deficiencies in fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin D, and trace minerals have been implicated in cases of postpartum depression.