Postnatal vitamins: Benefits and how to choose – Insider
Post-pregnancy nutritional deficiencies are very common. They typically happen because your body reroutes key nutrients — including vitamin D, calcium, iron, folate, and zinc — to your growing baby during pregnancy. Childbirth and nursing can also deplete your body of important vitamins and micronutrients, and it takes time to rebuild these stores.
Enter postnatal vitamins. These supplements can help replenish nutrients lost during pregnancy and childbirth. In short, they support your body through the “fourth trimester,” or your first 3 months postpartum, as well as your nursing journey, says Dr. Kimberly Spair, a board-certified holistic health practitioner.
Whether you want a vitamin to support milk production, balance a vegan diet, or help minimize postpartum hair loss, there’s an option out there to meet your specific needs.
Read on to learn how postnatal vitamins differ from prenatals, what benefits they offer, and how to find the right ones for you.
If you’ve ever been pregnant, you’re probably familiar with prenatal vitamins.
Though similar to regular multivitamins, prenatal vitamins contain more folic acid to help prevent birth defects and often contain iron to support the higher blood volume that comes with pregnancy, says Dr. Jennifer Roelands, OB-GYN, Fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and chief medical officer at Well Woman MD.
But even after pregnancy and childbirth, iron, magnesium, and B vitamin deficiencies remain pretty common — nutrient deficiencies are even more likely if you nurse or have two pregnancies close together, Spair says.
Taking leftover prenatal vitamins or even a regular multivitamin can cover many of your postpartum nutritional needs, but postnatal vitamins offer additional benefits, Roelands says. These benefits include higher levels of:
Eating a balanced diet isn’t always enough to prevent nutrient deficiencies. Pregnancy places a higher demand on your body’s resources, so you’ll almost certainly need a postnatal vitamin alongside a nutritious eating plan.
Postnatal vitamins support your health postpartum by:
Experts recommend consuming up to 400 extra calories per day compared to your pre-pregnancy diet when nursing. Your postnatal vitamin should also include higher amounts of many vitamins and minerals to support lactation, including:
The loss of blood during childbirth can contribute to iron-deficiency anemia, which can cause postpartum symptoms like:
A postnatal vitamin containing at least 10 mg of iron could help treat anemia — but it’s not uncommon for iron, especially when taken in excess or on an empty stomach, to cause digestive issues like constipation or nausea.
If iron supplements cause unpleasant side effects, a postnatal vitamin without iron might suit your needs best. Liver, shellfish, and red meats are great whole food sources of iron if supplements are causing problems. For vegetarians and vegans, eating iron-rich foods like raw green leafy vegetables, beans, apricots, and lentils can help prevent anemia, Spair says.
You’ll likely experience some hair shedding during the postpartum period. Hair loss often starts around 3 months postpartum and lasts for about 6 to 12 weeks. But nutritional deficiencies may exacerbate postpartum hair loss.
“Persistent hair loss is associated with deficiencies in selenium, zinc, and copper,” Roelands says. A postnatal vitamin with these minerals might not prevent postpartum hair loss completely — but it could help minimize it.
Getting enough protein from food sources may also help reduce hair loss. Good sources of lean protein include poultry, seafood, eggs, and low-fat dairy. You can also opt for plant protein from nuts, legumes, and seeds.
Note: Anemia can also worsen postpartum hair loss, so if you have anemia, you may want to consider taking a postnatal vitamin that contains iron or adding more protein to your diet.
During pregnancy, your body produces high amounts of the hormone progesterone, but levels of this hormone drop off significantly after birth. If you’re nursing, your body will also produce less estrogen.
These hormone changes could contribute to:
Vitamins won’t single-handedly resolve problems caused by natural hormone shifts, but they do provide nutrients that support your body through these changes.
For instance, consuming omega-3 fatty acids like DHA — naturally found in fatty fish like tuna and salmon — may lower your risk of postpartum depression.
Plus, many B vitamins support estrogen production, which plays a critical role in arousal and vaginal lubrication.
Nearly 50% of people experience uncomfortable contractions, or afterpains, for up to a few days after giving birth. You’re more likely to get them if you’ve given birth before or have a history of painful periods.
Magnesium deficiency could contribute to these post-birth uterine contractions, muscle cramping, and spasms, Spair says.
So, taking a supplement that contains up to 360 mg of magnesium could lessen your chances of postpartum muscle cramps or reduce the intensity of post-birth contractions.
Roelands suggests taking a postnatal vitamin for at least 3 months, or until you stop nursing.
It’s also not a bad idea to take a postnatal vitamin for up to 6 months after lactation to build up nutrient reserves, Spair says.
It can take time to replenish your body’s nutrients postpartum, but there’s no set timeline for how long this will take. To determine how long to take postnatal vitamins, it may help to consider:
Note: Some vitamins and micronutrients, including iron along with vitamins A and D, can be toxic when taken in excessive amounts. It’s important to take only the recommended daily dose and to follow your doctor’s guidance for using these supplements.
When shopping for postnatal vitamins, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. Keeping your specific needs in mind can help you narrow the field.
Note: Vitamins aren’t always FSA-eligible when you take them to support overall health. But vitamins for specific health conditions — which includes prenatal and postnatal vitamins — may be covered if you provide a letter of medical necessity from your doctor.
Postnatal vitamins contain a specific profile of nutrients to meet your body’s needs postpartum. The right one for you will depend on a number of factors, including your symptoms, budget, and dietary needs.
Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options? Your care team can always offer more guidance on choosing a supplement that meets your nutritional needs.