Vital nutrients during breastfeeding

According to researchers, breastfeeding is one of the most nutritionally stressful periods in a woman’s life.[i]  The nutrients you provide during this rapid growth period, impacts the development of their brain, bones, muscles and in fact every organ in their body.  As with pregnancy, you are the sole source of nutrition for this growing baby.  And you also need to maintain your own energy levels up to keep up with the regular feeding patterns and sleepless nights.  I feel exhausted already!


What nutrients do I need?

Most importantly, the extra calories should be coming from nutrient dense foods such as vegetables, fruits, meat or legumes and whole grains.  Consuming a wide variety of nutrients is important for the health of both Mum and bub, so it’s good to make sure you’re eating a variety of different foods with a focus on your nutrient dense food groups.  There are certain nutrients in particular that are especially important during this rapid growth period.  These include

  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Folate
  • B12
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Choline

Protein is important for healthy, muscle growth.  Good sources include red meat, chicken, fish, soy, legumes, eggs, nuts seeds.

Calcium is essential for bone development.  Dairy is one of the richest sources of calcium, other sources include almonds, sesame seeds, figs, quinoa, broccoli, green beans, seaweed, spinach, soy milk and some calcium is found in most wholegrains.  Vitamin D is also required to transport this calcium into bones.  Vitamin D can be found in dairy products but the best source is some good old fashioned sunshine.  Recommended intake for calcium during breastfeeding is 1000mg per day with an upper safe limit of 2500mg per day.  Recommended intake for vitamin D during pregnancy is 600IU per day with an upper safe limit of 3200IU.

Folate, B12 and iron are building blocks for our DNA and are essential during all phases of growth and development.  Red meat is one of the richest sources of all three nutrients, good vegetarian sources include spinach, broccoli, lentils, legumes and soy.  Recommended intake for folate during breastfeeding is 600mcg per day with an upper safe limit of 1000mcg per day.  Recommended intake for vitamin B12 during breastfeeding is 2.8mcg per day and there is no upper safe limit for vitamin B12 so much higher intakes at around 50 – 100mcg per day can be very beneficial to help improve energy levels.  Recommended intake of iron during breastfeeding is 9mg per day with an upper safe limit of 45mg per day.  Unlike B12, iron is a heavy metal and the body has no means by which to excrete any excess, so although it’s important to consume enough iron it’s also just as important not to consume too much as excess can be harmful.

Iodine and choline are essential for brain development.  The Australian diet is naturally low in iodine, so supplementation is advised.  The World Health Organisation recommends that breastfeeding women supplement with 250mcg of iodine per day.  Recommended intake for iodine during breastfeeding is 270mcg per day with an upper safe limit of 1110mcg per day.  Studies also show that around 90% of women aren’t reaching the recommended adequate intake of choline. [ii] Choline is one of the few nutrients, which actually becomes more important during breastfeeding.  The recommended adequate intake increases from 440mg during pregnancy to 550mg during breastfeeding.  Healthy intake of choline during both pregnancy and breastfeeding has been shown to impact the development of the neural tube, which connects the brain and spinal chord as well as impacting learning and memory function.  Good sources of choline include lecithin granules, eggs, beef, salmon, chicken, baked beans, kidney beans, lentils, brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, wheatgerm, oats and milk.  Recommended adequate intake of choline is 550mg per day with an upper safe limit of 3500mg per day.


Diet and supplementation

Your baby will never grow as much as they do from the time of conception to the age of 6 months.  The development that occurs during this time sets your child’s foundation for life, influencing their bone and muscle growth as well as their predisposition to allergy and other chronic conditions throughout their lifetime.

Your nutrition during this time is so important that supplementation is recommended to support a healthy diet. Because, as we all know, babies can be unpredictable! There are some days where your diet is close to perfect, you’ve had a reasonable nights sleep and you’re feeling great.  Although for those of you who are currently breastfeeding you’ll be well aware that these days are few and far between!  Also gone are the days where we sourced fresh food from the veggie patch and chicken coup in the backyard.  Much of our food these days is processed, packaged, frozen, shipped and thawed.  Unfortunately all these processes and conveniences reduce the natural nutrient content.  Deficiency of the essential nutrient vitamin D is also growing in prevalence in Australia.  Due to the risks associated with excess sun exposure and the difficulty quantifying exactly how much sun is enough, Australian and New Zealand guidelines recommend supplementation over increased sun exposure.

Taking Zycia Natal Nutrients during breastfeeding i conjunction with a healthy diet provides a balance of all these important nutrients plus a good dose of your B vitamins and other essential vitamins and minerals to help ensure you and your baby are getting essential nutrients you need to support the healthy growth of your new little bub as well as maintaining your health and energy levels, which can be so important during those sleepless first few months!

Staying hydrated

Just as important as getting enough nutrient rich food is drinking enough water!  To maintain healthy milk production you need to ensure you’re staying adequately hydrated. It’s difficult to quantify a specific amount of water required as this can depend on other factors such as the weather and your activity level.  It’s important to listen to your body and your thirst response.  However a good guide is to aim to consume at least 8 glasses or 2 litres of water per day.  Keep a glass or bottle of water handy whenever you’re feeding and make sure you keep up your fluid intake throughout the day.  You should also limit your caffeine intake.  Not only is caffeine dehydrating but it can also affect your babies sleep patterns.

Am I still eating for two?

You definitely need a little more sustenance during this time to support yourself and your precious baby.  The extra calorie demand equates to around 400 – 500 calories per day.  Which is basically an extra small meal.

Foods that may affect breastmilk

During breastfeeding, different foods will also change the taste of your breast milk.  It’s a good idea to eat a wide variety of different foods as this enables your baby to get used to different tastes, which can help when you come to wean your baby.  There are also some foods that you may find your baby doesn’t like.  This often results in your baby not feeding as well or becoming colicky or irritable.  Common foods that can cause this reaction include cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, wheat and soy. [iii] Keeping a food diary can be useful to help pin point certain foods that may be irritating your baby.

Possible symptoms and how to overcome them

The nutritional demand of breastfeeding combined with increased stress and lack of sleep can lead to symptoms such as dry skin and lips, hair loss and brittle nails.

Dry skin, lips and brittle nails

Dry skin and dry lips are common symptom some women experience during breastfeeding. The best way to overcome this is to ensure good intake of water, around 2L per day as well as a good intake of essential fatty acids from foods such as salmon, avocados, nuts and seeds.  Biotin, alongside your other B vitamins and vitamin C will also support your skin health as well as your baby’s.

Hair loss

A certain level of hair loss is to be expected after the delivery of your baby. Pregnancy hormones can reduce hair loss, giving your locks that lovely, healthy pregnancy glow! Following delivery you may notice an increased hair loss which is a natural and normal.  However if this hair loss continues or becomes more prominent, this may be due to the increased nutrient demand. A healthy, nutrient rich diet is essential, combined with your daily dose of Zycia Natal Nutrients. Stress and lack of sleep can also have a big impact on hair loss, so try to make sure you’re getting some afternoon naps or some early nights to help catch up on lost sleep.

Cradle Cap

Biotin can also be beneficial for your babies skin.  If your baby is suffering cradle cap, boosting your intake of biotin can help, with studies showing that taking 300mcg per day can assist in the treatment and prevention of cradle cap.  Zycia Natal Nutrients provides 300mcg of biotin to help support skin health.


[i] Andrea Hill. U of A researchers strive to increase awareness of forgotten essential nutrient. University of Alberta News August 5, 2011

[ii] Claudill MA. Pre and postnatal health: evidence of increased choline needs J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Aug;110(8):1198-206.

[iii] Australian Breastfeeding Association

* All RDI’s and AI’s are based on current Australian and New Zealand Guidelines