As registered dietitians, we get asked about supplements A LOT. We’re here for you, so we created this guide: how to choose the right supplements when pregnant or breastfeeding.
First…we feel obligated to start with an important disclaimer about supplements. Unlike foods, nutrition supplements are not regulated in the United States. This means that companies are not required to prove that their products are safe and/or effective. A little scary, right? They also don’t have to prove that the ingredients listed on the label are actually what’s in the pill or powder in your hand. Additionally, supplements may contain harmful ingredients not listed on the label like toxins and heavy metals. So, with that being said, we always recommend approaching nutrition supplements with caution and choosing brands who have 3rd party organizations like USP testing their products for both safety and precision. Here’s a link to a prenatal supplement that received the USP verification.
Nutrients are absorbed most effectively in their natural form, from real foods. Supplements can complement a well-balanced diet but do not replace the importance of consuming a wide variety of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
Taking all of that into consideration, keep reading for which nutrition supplements could be beneficial to you when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Most healthcare providers and many credible national organizations recommend women take a prenatal multivitamin while pregnant and breastfeeding. This is both to foster healthy growth and development of your baby and to protect your own nutrient stores as your body is working overtime to grow your baby. Folate, iron, iodine, calcium, magnesium, vitamins A and C, and choline are examples of nutrients that are of particular importance during pregnancy and post partum. You’ll want to check your prenatal multivitamin to see if these nutrients are present in adequate quantities, especially if your diet is lacking to provide them (i.e., unless you’re consuming eggs regularly or animal liver, it would be difficult to obtain adequate levels of choline during pregnancy from your diet alone. It’s common for choline to be left out of multivitamin supplements due to its large molecular size, but you can buy choline separately). Some prenatal multivitamins contain probiotics as well. If yours does not, you can consume probiotics from your diet or take an additional probiotic supplement.
We recommend continuing your prenatal vitamin as long as you’re breastfeeding too so that you protect your body from nutrient deficiencies and related conditions like anemia, which could decrease your milk supply.
Even though most prenatal vitamins will contain vitamin D, it’s possible that you may need an additional vitamin D supplement for a few reasons. Vitamin D deficiency is common among women in the United States, and it’s not naturally present in very many foods. Vitamin D plays a role in many cellular functions. Having a healthy amount of vitamin D can improve your bone and muscle health, immune function, mood and energy, among other benefits.
Although our bodies can make vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, the use of sunscreen inhibits this. Sunscreen is recommended for the prevention of skin cancers and to prevent sun damage as you age. It’s best to continue using sunscreen and get your vitamin D from foods (like fortified dairy products or fatty fish) or a nutrition supplement instead.
Your OBGYN, midwife or primary care provider can do a simple blood test to determine your vitamin D status. If it’s low, you can simply take ~2,000 IUs (international units) of vitamin D daily to build your stores. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, you don’t want to overdo it. Ask your healthcare provider for the recommended dose for your specific needs.
Vitamin D is also a recommended supplement for breastfed babies, not just breastfeeding mamas. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving your baby 400 IUs of vitamin D per day starting at birth and continuing as long as they are breastfed. Vitamin D is the only thing your healthy, exclusively breastfed newborn needs in addition to your breastmilk. Thankfully, vitamin D is super easy to give to babies! We like this product: Zarbee’s Naturals baby vitamin D supplement. It’s clear and tasteless, and the dose is a small amount for your baby to swallow. It comes with a syringe and is super easy to administer.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You may have heard DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, is important for your baby’s brain and eye development while pregnant and breastfeeding. Click here to access our blog post DHA- A Healthy Fat for Your Baby’s Brain for everything you ever wanted to know about DHA, the foods that contain it, the amount recommended when pregnant or breastfeeding and other special considerations. If you’re not able to consume the recommended amounts from your diet, a DHA supplement would be recommended. Some prenatal multivitamins like this one already contain DHA so you don’t have to take multiple supplements.
In addition to these supplements, your healthcare provider may recommend other nutrition supplements based on your own individualized assessment and needs. Remember, it’s best to consume nutrients from real foods for optimal absorption and to use supplements to complement a well-balanced diet.
While we’re on the topic of supplements…remember that supplements promising to increase your milk supply are usually just a scam to take your money or simply not going to make a massive impact. They are also not regulated (so they don’t have to prove they are safe and effective!) and can be harmful. Click here for research-based tips for increasing your milk supply that WILL yield the results you’re wanting.
For more research-based breastfeeding tips, check out our 5-star rated online breastfeeding class “Ready, Set, Latch!”. We give you practical tools to feed your baby like a pro and meet your goals! You’ve got this, mama.