Prenatal and postnatal multivitamins are specifically designed to meet different nutritional requirements
Part of postpartum self-care should focus on “restocking” nutrients you may have lost during pregnancy
Lactation requires a lot of energy and also requires your body to have an adequate supply of nutrients, which is why vitamins for breastfeeding moms are so important
A postnatal multivitamin can help fill in potential nutrient gaps to support new moms, whether they’re nursing or not
Congratulations! You just spent nine months growing a healthy little human by eating nutritious foods, taking a prenatal multivitamin, and getting lots of rest. Now that you’ve given birth, you still need to take care of yourself. And if you’re breastfeeding, good nutrition and making sure your body gets an adequate supply of nutrients still play important roles in your baby’s development. But taking care of your little bundle of joy keeps you busy, making it challenging to eat healthy on a consistent basis. You might be wondering what vitamins to take while breastfeeding. Should you stop taking prenatal vitamins and switch to postpartum vitamins? And what’s the difference between the two?
The Difference Between Prenatal and Postnatal Vitamins
Before you decide to stop taking any vitamins or switch to a different kind, it helps to first understand the goals of each multivitamin.
Prenatal multivitamins: The word “prenatal” literally means “before birth.” So prenatal multivitamins are specifically designed to include just the right combination of essential nutrients to meet the increased nutritional demands of a pregnant woman and her developing baby in utero. For instance, prenatal multivitamins contain extra iron (pregnant women need nearly double the iron) and folate (which may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a neural tube defect when taken in adequate amounts as part of a healthful diet.)†
Postnatal multivitamins: Also known as “postpartum,” the word “postnatal” literally means “after birth.” So postnatal multivitamins are specifically designed to support the nutritional needs of women who recently gave birth as well as women who are breastfeeding. For instance, because iron needs go down after pregnancy, postnatal multivitamins contain much less iron than prenatal multivitamins.1
The verdict: Since prenatal and postnatal multivitamins are specifically designed to meet different nutritional requirements, it’s best to take prenatal vitamins while you’re pregnant. Then, consider switching to postnatal vitamins after you give birth, whether you’re nursing or not.
During pregnancy, stores of several nutrients (such as calcium, Vitamin B6, and folate) may have been depleted and need to be replenished during the postpartum period.2 Part of your postpartum self-care should focus on “restocking” nutrients that many have been depleted during pregnancy. Not only does caring for a newborn require increased energy demands, breastfeeding moms need about 500 more calories per day, so you need to continue to eat a healthy diet and get plenty of rest.†
If you’re nursing, you want to ensure your milk provides all the vitamins and minerals your newborn needs. While you’ll do your best to continue eating a healthy diet, taking vitamins while breastfeeding gives you that peace of mind knowing you’re getting additional support for possible nutritional gaps in your diet.
A Closer Look at the Nutritional Needs of Nursing Moms
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of infancy.3 But lactation requires a lot of energy—your body needs about 450–500 extra calories a day to make breast milk for your baby.4 In fact, nursing women need more carbohydrates, proteins, and fats than during pregnancy.5
With so many responsibilities as a new mom, you might find it challenging to get adequate amounts of nutrient-dense foods. A postnatal multivitamin helps fill key dietary gaps in moms by providing higher levels of Vitamin D to support overall health and B vitamins for cellular energy demands. And if mom doesn’t get enough of the right vitamins, this can impact infant growth and development.†
When it comes to essential vitamins for breastfeeding, look for a supplement that meets the increased nutritional demands to support both mom and baby. For instance, buying prenatal vitamins like our Nature Made Postnatal Multivitamins contain higher amounts of vitamins A, B, C, D, and E to help meet increased nutrient demands of mom and contain 200 mg of DHA, which may help support fetal brain and eye development.†
How Long Should You Take Postnatal Vitamins?
It makes sense to take postnatal multivitamins for breastfeeding to ensure both you and your baby get the vital nutrients you need after childbirth. Your OB-GYN may recommend that you take these lactation vitamins as long as you are breastfeeding, whether that’s just a few weeks, a few months, or a few years.
But should you take postnatal multivitamins if you’re not breastfeeding? If you’re not nursing, your OB-GYN may suggest that you continue taking prenatal vitamins postpartum for at least six months after giving birth.6 Why? This ensures you’re still getting the nutrients you need after a demanding nine months, allowing enough time for your nutrient stores to be replenished.†
Finally, you might be thinking about having another baby in the future. If so, you’ll want to make sure your body is best prepared for the rigorous demands of supporting a healthy pregnancy. That’s why it’s generally a good idea for women of reproductive age to regularly take a prenatal multivitamin.7
The Bottom Line
Prenatal and postnatal multivitamins are designed to meet the additional nutrient demands during pregnancy and lactation. After your baby is born, make sure you replenish the nutrients you lost during pregnancy. If you’re breastfeeding, know that it requires a lot of energy and that you’ll need nutrients in different amounts than when you were pregnant. Check with your OB-GYN to see if you should continue taking your prenatal multivitamins or switch to a postnatal multivitamin—especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.