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Can maternal diet affect the nutrient content of breastmilk?

Can maternal diet affect the nutrient content of breastmilk?

January 12, 2021

As a mom who breastfeeds have you ever wondered,  “what exactly IS in my breastmilk?” 

 

Over the years, scientists have found hundreds of compounds in breast milk that simply cannot be replicated. It’s packed full of essential vitamins, minerals and even antibodies that are passed on from you to your baby.   While it would be convenient for our bodies to have an endless supply of those nutrients that just isn’t the case. So, can your diet affect the nutrients available in your breast milk? The answer is, yes. However, don't let that scare you. No matter how nutrient-dense your diet is, the breastmilk you produce for your baby is still amazing and offers irreplaceable immune-boosting benefits.

 

Women of child bearing age and those who are pregnant are told they can help support a baby during pregnancy by taking a prenatal vitamin. But what some women may not know is that same prenatal vitamin, and your diet, continues to be influential and important while breastfeeding. 

 

Lily Nichols, a respectable registered dietitian and author of Real Food for Pregnancy: the Science and Wisdom of Optimal Prenatal Nutrition, states that maternal diet affects the concentrations of the following vitamins in breast milk: B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, A, D, K, choline, fatty acids (such as DHA), and certain trace minerals (such as selenium, and iodine).  Did you know, "at the time of birth, a baby’s brain is only about 25% developed, and goes on to double in size in the first year of life" (Nichols, 2018, p. 230)!? To help keep your nutrient stores filled for both you and your baby you can focus on taking your prenatal vitamin and incorporating the following foods in your diet:

  • B vitamins- meat, fish, eggs, dairy
  • Choline- eggs, organ meats
  • Fatty acids & DHA- seafood, grass-fed beef, eggs
  • Vitamin A- butter, ghee, organ meats, fish, dairy
  • Vitamin D- organ meats, eggs, dairy
  • Iodine- seafood, seaweed, eggs, dairy

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, no worries! However, supplementation is going to be especially important. To reduce chances of deficiency, ensure your prenatal vitamin includes these vitamins and minerals or consider additional supplementation. 

While the World Health Organization's recommendation is to exclusively breastfeed for the first six month's and to continue breastfeeding while providing complementary foods for up to two years of age and older, sometimes the journey doesn't last that long. And that's okay too. It's still beneficial to continue taking your prenatal vitamin for at least those first 6 months postpartum. Doing so will help you replenish your nutrient stores and help your body heal!

Looking for some nutrient dense recipe ideas? Check out Lily's recommendations here.

 

Reference:

“The Fourth Trimester.” Real Food for Pregnancy: the Science and Wisdom of Optimal Prenatal Nutrition, by Lily Nichols, Lily Nichols, 2018, pp. 228–235. 



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