New mothers have a lot on their plates- but it may not be enough when it comes to food. To meet increased nutrition needs during lactation, lactating women need more energy and vitamins from nutritious foods to meet their increased needs. Some vitamins and minerals are needed in even higher amounts than during pregnancy, including some B vitamins, and vitamins A and C. Another important nutrient that lactating women need more of is folate since this is excreted in breast milk at the mother’s expense. This means that if a mother isn’t getting enough for both herself and her baby, her body will pull from her own stores to ensure there is enough in the breast milk- putting her at risk of folate deficiency. Since prenatal vitamins provide higher amounts of folate, it’s a good idea to continue taking them throughout lactation. If desired, a regular multivitamin can be taken plus an additional folate supplement. It’s also important to remember to get 1,000 mg of calcium each day from calcium-rich foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and dark green leafy vegetables. An additional calcium supplement containing 500 mg of calcium may be good to have available for a day when not enough calcium-rich foods can be consumed since a prenatal vitamin usually only contains about 200 mg.
Since lactating women burn an extra 500 calories each day (even more than during pregnancy) they need to replenish these calories with two extra snacks each day containing about 250 calories including a combination of carbohydrate (grains, fruit, dairy foods) and protein (meat, beans, nuts/seeds, and dairy foods). This will ensure that enough macronutrients, or carbohydrates, protein, and fats, are consumed. A prenatal vitamin will fill in any vitamin and mineral gaps that a woman may not have received from her daily diet.
It’s also important to remember that fluid needs go up to 10 to 12 eight-ounce cups per day. Since breast milk is more than 75% water this fluid must be replaced to ensure adequate breast milk production as well as good hydration for mom!