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5 key nutrients breastfeeding mamas need in their diets

New mothers are often focused on the physical recovery from childbirth and the emotional challenges that come quickly and sporadically soon after becoming a mother. Many try to care for themselves as best as they can, but this often amounts to taking their prenatal vitamin when they can remember.

Childbirth and breastfeeding can be stressful and our bodies more than ever need proper nutrition to survive the exhausting days ahead. I have yet to meet a breastfeeding woman who is not sleep-deprived, tired, struggling with hormonal changes, often forgetting to take vitamins or eat properly!

So with that in mind, here are the top five most important nutrients new moms should pay attention to. Remember to always check with your doctor before adding in any supplements into your diet:

1. Iron

Iron Is essential for baby's red blood cell function, immune support and nervous system development. A mother who is iron-deficient may feel tired, have more hair loss and less overall energy. Some studies have shown that low iron may even impair cognition and memory. Women may not realize that they are anemic and iron reserves can be low even if blood counts are normal. And there is a type of anemia that can develop during pregnancy that can be exacerbated after delivery.

Many women think that continuing to take a daily prenatal vitamin with about 10-18 mg of iron is sufficient. The issue is that we do not absorb all of the iron we take in. Taking iron together with Vitamin C will help with absorption. I recommend that women take a supplement that contains 18 mg of iron daily in addition to eating 1-2 servings a day of dark green veggies. Replenishing iron levels will help with postpartum fatigue and result in more nutritious breast milk.

2. Vitamin C

The role of Vitamin C is complex—it's needed to regulate fatty acids, absorb sufficient amounts of iron and other necessary minerals such as zinc, and plays an important role as an antioxidant and to decrease inflammation. Vitamin C can help treat common cold symptoms and is especially important during cold and flu season with a newborn, as mom's levels of Vitamin C will correlate directly with the amount in her breastmilk.

A breastfeeding mother should consume a minimum of 120 mg daily and we recommend 500 mg daily for nursing mothers as an optimal dose. Foods that are rich in Vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, cabbage and spinach.

3. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for neurodevelopment and proper nervous system function and there have also been many reported cases of low B12 contributing to anxiety and nervousness. Adequate levels of B12 are necessary for proper cell function, can help combat fatigue and are necessary for proper hair growth.

Many women have low levels of B12 for various reasons: vegans, vegetarians or those who do not eat much meat often do not consume enough B12. The absorption of B12 is affected by the acidity of the stomach and is affected by other foods. A mother who suffers from reflux and takes a lo3t of over-the-counter medications such and proton pump inhibitors, or who has had gastric bypass surgery, or who suffers from inflammatory bowel disease, may also have difficulty absorbing B12. It's typically recommended to take a supplement containing 1000 mcg of Vitamin B12 daily.

4. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an antioxidant that is not only essential for eye development but also plays an important role in immunity and in helping us fight infections. A mother with a history of gut issues that can affect absorption may themselves be deficient leading to lower levels in her breast milk. For example, mothers with a history of Crohn's disease, who have had gastric bypass surgery, or irritable bowel syndrome may not absorb enough Vitamin A .

All dairy products in the U.S Are fortified with Vitamin A. In addition, the typical pre- or postnatal vitamin supplement contains anywhere from 50-1000 IU (international units) daily. Mothers who eat little or no dairy are at risk for having lower levels of Vitamin A. The RDA of Vitamin A for a breastfeeding mother is 2300 IU daily and in addition to taking a pre/postnatal vitamin I encourage eating foods that are rich in Vitamin A such as oranges, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, spinach and kale.

5. Protein

Proteins are important for immune and neurological function and are the building blocks for tissues, muscle and bones. It is important that when we're talking about a mother's recommended protein intake, we take into account a breastfeeding mother's need for protein to recover from the physiological strain of pregnancy and childbirth. Bottom line is that women of childbearing age should establish protein stores, conserve them and replenish them.

Premature infants require diets that are high in protein and the amount of protein in breastmilk steadily declines as children grow. For example, a mother nursing a 28-week-old premature infant can have almost four times as much protein in her milk as a mother nursing a 2-year-old toddler.

The USDA publishes an online tool that includes breastfeeding in calculating recommended daily nutritional intake. For example, an active 30-year old mother who is 5' 4" tall and weighs 100 lbs should consume 59 grams of protein per day during the first 6 months of breastfeeding, 13 grams more than if she were not breastfeeding, according to the USDA calculator.

The World Health Organization recommends around 17 grams of extra protein per day during the first six months of breastfeeding. We recommend erring on the side of more protein, especially as extra protein has no negative health consequences and may have some beneficial effect on milk volume and quality. Mothers should aim for a diet that includes a variety of protein sources, such as lean meat, seafood, eggs, yogurt, tofu, quinoa, nuts, and beans. We also suggest that breastfeeding mothers should avoid seafood and limit consumption of fish such as tuna and mackerel, as they can contain excessive amounts of mercury and other toxins. Breastfed babies are more vulnerable to the effects of heavy metals that can find their way into a mother's milk.

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My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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