Though the vast majority of doctors and health officials alike recommend prenatal vitamins for optimal nutrient intake during pregnancy, there’s less information out there about postnatal vitamins — supplements that are typically marketed toward those who are breastfeeding. If you’re currently breastfeeding or expect to be soon, you might be wondering whether it’s necessary to buy a separate supplement for the postpartum period or if you can continue taking your prenatal vitamins into the fourth trimester.
First, a refresher on why it’s so crucial to supplement throughout pregnancy and thereafter. Even with a balanced diet, pregnancy and the postpartum period can deplete you of essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron and folic acid, both of which support baby’s healthy growth and development, along with filling the nutrient gaps you might experience due to your developing baby taking the nutrients you might naturally get through your diet.
Research has shown that even with prenatal vitamins and a healthy diet, pregnant people in the U.S. are prone to nutrient deficiency, making it essential to check in with your doctor about your specific nutritional needs.
Those in the postpartum period also face similar nutrient gaps, and the need for nutrients is even higher than in pregnancy for those who are lactating and/or breastfeeding, which is why supplementing during this time is so important. That said, do you really need to stock up on specific postnatal vitamins?
What’s the difference: prenatal vitamins vs. postnatal?
According to two OBGYNs, it’s absolutely fine to continue taking your prenatal vitamins after you give birth. “Postnatal vitamins are a type of supplement that is marketed toward women who are breastfeeding,” explains Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT, an OBGYN, NASM-certified personal trainer, and founder of Postpartum Trainer. “They typically contain higher levels of certain nutrients than traditional vitamins, including Vitamin D, Vitamin B complex, folic acid, magnesium, and calcium. You do not need to take specific postnatal vitamins. It is fine to continue to take your prenatal vitamins as they often contain all of the micronutrients that are typically lacking in most diets.”
While it’s always advised to check in with your doctor about your individual needs, Kim Langdon, MD, OBGYN with Medzino adds, “Prenatal vitamins and postnatal vitamins are the same for the most part. Any differences are likely due to marketing efforts.”
What do postnatal vitamins do?
Both docs recommend supplementing in the fourth trimester for as long as you’re breastfeeding, and if you aren’t breastfeeding, your doctor will recommend a specific timeframe for you to continue with a vitamin regimen — typically six weeks to six months, depending on your unique nutritional needs. You may be wondering, “Do postnatal vitamins help milk supply?” Notes Robles, vitamins are especially important for those who are breastfeeding. Nutrients like Vitamin A, B complex (B1, B2, B6, B12), C, D, calcium, zinc, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), choline, and iodine “are necessary for optimal health, especially for breastfeeding women as they can pass these nutrients to their newborns via breast milk,” says Robles.
And even if you’re (understandably!) focused on caring for your little one, it’s equally important to prioritize your own health and well-being, which includes regularly eating balanced meals and snacks. “Aside from pre- or postnatal vitamins, eating a healthy diet is the best way to ensure you're getting the nutrients you need during the postpartum period,” says Robles. “When you're nursing, your body needs more calories and fluid than usual, so it's important to eat nutrient-rich foods that will give you sustained energy. Try to include a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet.”