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Breastfeeding Supplements: Which Ones Do You Really Need?

Medically reviewed by Rubilyn Saldana-Santiago, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Jason Inocencio · Updated Sep 14, 2022

Breastfeeding Supplements: Which Ones Do You Really Need?

Breastmilk is the source of nutrients essential for a baby. Beyond being backed by science, this is a fact that many mothers know instinctively from almost the moment a newborn is brought into the world. To better provide for their child, some mothers ask if they need breastfeeding supplements while lactating. With the health of both mother and child of paramount importance, additional knowledge of a mother and child’s nutritional needs can be critical.

There is a wide variety of breastfeeding supplements available. But do you really need breastfeeding supplements? And if so, which ones are proven to be beneficial?

How Breastfeeding Works: Passing Nutrients from Mother to Baby

When a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding, whatever nutrition she has stored is easily depleted. Just the blood lost during childbirth can be quite substantial.

Breastmilk volume also varies depending on a mother’s diet or her nutrient reserves. Because the conversion of nutrients in food to nutrients in breastmilk is not complete, mothers have to increase their nutrient intake.

A woman’s body knows exactly what nutrition her baby needs at every stage of development. Regardless of what a mother eats — or what supplements she takes — her milk will probably still be just right for her baby.

To make sure mother and baby are in good health, your doctor will check on you even after giving birth. The doctor might recommend continuing to take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement until the baby is weaned.

Dietary Advice for Breastfeeding Moms

Even if a mother is short of certain things in her diet, the carbohydrates, iron, protein, calcium, and fat contents in breastmilk don’t change much. However, if a mother does not produce enough thiamine and vitamins A and D, there is also less of these in her milk.

Doctors advise breastfeeding mothers to have a mixed diet. And every postnatal visit should include dietary advice. Ideally, mothers should not consume less than 1800 calories per day. Meanwhile, the best way to judge a baby’s diet is by measuring the baby’s weight gain.

That mixed diet should ideally include proteins such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, nuts, and seeds 2-3 times a day. Three servings of vegetables, two servings of fruits, and whole grains such as wheat bread, pasta, cereal, and oatmeal are ideal.

Breastfeeding Supplements Mothers Need

Folic acid, in particular, has been recommended for women to take prior to getting pregnant and during their first trimester.

Another supplement that has been suggested during pregnancy and lactation is iodine. Iodine is essential for supporting infant neurodevelopment. And women should consume an adequate amount when they are trying to conceive, pregnant or lactating.

So important is iodine as a breastfeeding supplement that the World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends a minimum of 250 ug/d for both pregnant and lactating women. This is to ensure that the iodine content of the breastmilk is sufficient for the infant’s iodine requirement.  

During their pregnancy, 78% of mothers in a 2018 study in Australia took a folic acid supplement and 21% took an iron supplement. Mothers who took supplements were more likely to continue breastfeeding. 

Meanwhile, a 2021 New Zealand study found that despite a decade of initiatives to increase iodine intake, knowledge about iodine was low. And the health status of the lactating women in the study were suboptimal. Women who did use supplements with iodine were more likely to achieve adequate status.

Key Takeaways

The nutrients that a breastfeeding mother passes from her to her baby are significant in the baby’s growth. Breastmilk contains carbohydrates, protein, fat, iron, and calcium — everything your baby needs. Even then, mothers still need to follow their doctor’s advice regarding what food to consume as they breastfeed. Folic acid, iron, and iodine are proven beneficial breastfeeding supplements endorsed by physicians and global organizations alike.

Click here for more on breastfeeding.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Rubilyn Saldana-Santiago, MD


Written by Jason Inocencio · Updated Sep 14, 2022

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