By Kinza Asghar Khan, PharmD

Up-Dated at 03-Feb-2024

Breastfeeding can be an incredible journey for both mother and child, but it can also come with unique challenges.

One of the most important things for lactating mothers to remember is that their body requires an increase in calories and nutrients in order to maintain energy stores and allow for gradual weight loss after pregnancy.

Before moving forward we also shared a helpful and informative article on best nutritional supplements for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. In this article, we will discuss why it’s important to provide nutritional supplements to lactating mothers, as well as the consequences poor nutrition can have for both the mother and child.

Why is nutrition important for lactating mothers?

When it comes to lactating mothers, proper nutrition is essential to ensure that both mother and baby remain healthy. Following are some reasons why a lactating woman needs more nutrition than others.

Lactating Mothers

Increased energy requirements during lactation

During lactation, a woman’s body requires an increased amount of energy to produce breastmilk, which varies based on factors such as age, weight, activity level, and the amount of milk produced.

For a lactating mother with a healthy body mass index, the total energy needs range from 2100 to 2800 calories per day, depending on age, weight, and activity level. However, the body’s appetite generally adjusts to meet these needs, so counting calories is usually not necessary.

The importance of vitamins and minerals for breastmilk quality

While the body can produce milk even if the recommended calorie and nutrient intakes are not met, the milk’s nutritional content may vary. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, selenium, and iodine can affect the milk’s quality.

In such cases, it is important to take supplements to ensure the milk’s nutritional value remains adequate. By doing so, lactating mothers can provide their babies with all the necessary nutrients for proper growth and development.

Weight loss during lactation

After giving birth, most women gradually lose the weight they gained during pregnancy. While losing a moderate amount of weight by consuming a healthy diet and exercising regularly generally does not affect milk production, severe weight loss may impact it.

It’s essential to consult a healthcare provider before starting any weight loss program during lactation. The baby should also be monitored closely for appropriate weight gain and potential vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamin B12.

Overall, proper nutrition is vital for lactating mothers to maintain their energy, provide quality milk to their babies, and promote gradual weight loss after pregnancy.

Do breastfeeding mothers need supplements?

Although it is essential to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet that includes dairy, meat, fish, and other vitamins- and mineral-rich foods during lactation, to meet all your vitamin and mineral needs, it is recommended to take a multivitamin-mineral supplement while breastfeeding.

If you follow a special diet like vegetarianism, taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement becomes even more crucial. The following minerals and vitamins are very important in the lactating phase.


Calcium is an essential nutrient for breastfeeding women as it helps to build strong bones and teeth. It also plays a crucial role in the proper functioning of the circulatory, muscular, and nervous systems.

Lactating women should aim to consume 1,000 mg of calcium per day, which can be obtained from various dietary sources such as low-fat dairy products, calcium-fortified orange juice, and milk alternatives.

Vegetables like kale are also an excellent source of calcium. It is important to meet the recommended daily intake of calcium to ensure proper bone health for both the mother and the baby.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another vital nutrient for lactating women as it aids in the absorption of calcium, promoting bone health. The body can produce vitamin D through sun exposure, but it can also be obtained from fortified milk and orange juice, egg yolks, and salmon.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for lactating women is 600 international units. If a mother is not getting enough vitamin D through her diet, her breast milk may not provide enough vitamin D for her baby, so it is crucial to meet the recommended daily intake.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is crucial for pregnant and breastfeeding women as it helps with the development of the baby’s brain and spinal cord. It is also needed to make red and white blood cells. Women who are breastfeeding should aim to get 500 micrograms of folic acid daily.

Good sources of folic acid include fortified bread, cereals, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, avocados, lentils, and beans. Meeting the recommended daily intake of folic acid is important for both the mother’s and the baby’s health.


Iodine is an essential nutrient for breastfeeding women as it helps in the production of thyroid hormones. These hormones play a vital role in the baby’s growth and development, particularly in the central nervous system.

Iodine deficiency during breastfeeding can cause developmental delays, learning disabilities, and goiters in the baby. Hence, it is crucial for breastfeeding mothers to consume iodine-rich foods such as seafood, seaweed, dairy products, and iodized salt. A  daily prenatal multivitamin that contains 150 micrograms of iodine is recommended.


Iron is another vital nutrient for breastfeeding mothers as it helps to prevent iron-deficiency anemia, which is a common condition among women. Breastfeeding mothers require more iron than pregnant women as the body loses iron during lactation.

Good dietary sources of iron include lean meats, poultry, fish, fortified cereals, legumes, and leafy green vegetables. Women should also consume foods rich in Vitamin C to enhance the absorption of iron.

Women with anemia may need an iron supplement, but it is recommended to consult a healthcare provider before taking any iron supplements.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is crucial for breastfeeding mothers as it supports the baby’s immune system, heart, and vision development. However, too much Vitamin A can be harmful and cause birth defects.

Breastfeeding women should consume vitamin A from natural sources, such as milk, orange fruits and vegetables, and dark leafy greens. Prenatal vitamins should not contain more than 1,500 micrograms of vitamin A, and breastfeeding women should not take vitamin A supplements.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for breastfeeding mothers as it plays a crucial role in the development of the nervous system in infants. It is recommended that lactating mothers consume 2.8 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day to ensure adequate levels of the vitamin in their breast milk.

Unfortunately, vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common, especially in vegetarian and vegan diets, as it is mainly found in animal products. This can lead to a deficiency in breast milk, affecting the infant’s growth and development. Therefore, it is crucial for breastfeeding mothers to consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement to ensure sufficient levels of the vitamin in their milk.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega-3s are a type of essential fatty acid that is important for brain and eye development, immune function, and reducing inflammation in the body. While you can get omega-3s from certain foods, such as fatty fish like salmon and sardines, it can be difficult to get enough through diet alone, especially if you don’t eat fish regularly or if you’re a vegetarian or vegan. This is where omega-3 supplements come in.

Research suggests that omega-3s can improve the quality of breast milk by increasing the levels of certain fatty acids that are important for infant development.

What is the effect of poor nutrition during lactation?

When a breastfeeding mother does not receive adequate nutrition, it can lead to various negative consequences.

Some of the effects of poor nutrition during lactation include:

  1. Decreased milk production: If a mother is not consuming enough calories and nutrients, her body may struggle to produce an adequate milk supply for her baby.

  2. Poor quality of breast milk: Even if a mother is able to produce enough milk, poor nutrition can result in breast milk that lacks essential nutrients and may not provide optimal nourishment for the baby.

  3. Dehydration: Breastfeeding requires a mother to consume more fluids than usual. If a mother is not drinking enough fluids, it can lead to dehydration, which can affect both her health and milk production.

  4. Increased risk of illness: Poor nutrition can weaken a mother’s immune system, making her more susceptible to infections and illnesses. This can affect both the mother’s and the baby’s health.

  5. Delayed recovery from childbirth: Breastfeeding mothers need extra nutrients to recover from the physical demands of childbirth. If a mother’s diet is lacking in essential nutrients, her recovery time may be prolonged.

  6. Nutrient deficiencies: If a mother’s diet is consistently lacking in essential nutrients, it can lead to nutrient deficiencies in both the mother and the baby.


In conclusion, it is important for lactating mothers to prioritize their nutrition to ensure the optimal health and growth of their infants. Poor nutrition during lactation can lead to several adverse effects on both the mother and baby, such as decreased milk production, increased risk of infections, and stunted growth and development.

While a balanced and healthy diet is the best source of nutrients, some breastfeeding mothers may benefit from taking supplements under the guidance of a healthcare professional. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best nutritional plan for both the mother and baby.

Remember, the time spent breastfeeding is a unique opportunity to bond with your baby and provide them with the best possible start in life. Taking care of yourself and prioritizing your nutrition during lactation is an important part of this journey. Read More 

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