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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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Ara Katz/Seed

We spoke to Ara Katz, co-founder and co-CEO of Seed, who shared her journey to (and through) motherhood—and gave us the lowdown on how probiotics can benefit mamas and children alike.

Chances are, you're aware that probiotics can help us digest the food we eat, keep inflammation at bay, synthesize essential vitamins and more. But here's the thing: When it comes to probiotics, there's a lot of misinformation… and because of that, it's hard to know what's actually a probiotic and which is the right one for you.

That's why we chatted with Ara Katz, who is a mama to son Pax and the co-founder of Seed, a company disrupting the probiotics industry. The entrepreneur told us about her motherhood journey, what led her to start her company and what she wants other parents to know about probiotics.

Q. What was life like for you before you became a mama?

I was bi-coastal after co-founding a mobile tech company in New York City with a partner in LA. My life was, for as long as I can remember, consumed by creating and work. I was fairly nomadic, loved to travel, spent many hours reading and practicing yoga, being with friends [and] waking up at the crack of dawn. [I] was fairly sure I would never marry or have children. And then something shifted.

Q. What were some pivotal moments that defined your journey to motherhood?

Ha, that makes it sound like motherhood is a destination when at this very moment, more than ever, it evolves daily. I lost my mom when I was 17 and spent most of my life believing I didn't want to be a mother. I had a lot of wiring about its limitations and constraints—I'm sure relics of grief and the fear of loss.

My journey started with a physiological wanting to be pregnant and have a baby. There was a kind of visceral sense that my body wanted to know what that was like and a strange curiosity that, at least for that period of time, usurped my ambivalence about motherhood.

Then I had a miscarriage—a beautiful inflection point in my story. I resigned from my company, chose a coast, committed to be more committed to my (then) boyfriend, now husband, and tried again. I got pregnant shortly after that and found pregnancy to be a profound journey within, a reshaping of my life and the tiniest glimpse of how motherhood would unfold.

In the 55 months since giving birth (and I like to use months because I have learned in the moments that I am most frustrated as a mom that he has only been on this planet for less than 14 fiscal quarters), I have realized and surrendered to a definition of motherhood that is a process. One of cultivating, creating, recreating, shapeshifting, learning, feeling, healing, hurting and experiencing the most potent form of presence I have ever experienced—and an aching, expansive love I didn't know possible—not just for my son, but for all living things.

Q. How did motherhood change your approach to your career?

Becoming a mother is certainly a persistent lens on all of my choices, but it was really my miscarriage that recalibrated my path. My pregnancy rekindled my love of biology and health and led me to my co-founder and the microbiome. My breastfeeding experience incepted our first product focus, and the newfound accountability for a human inspired our brand.

Q. What inspired you to co-found Seed?

I met my co-founder, Raja, during my pregnancy with Pax. [I] was immediately awestruck by his ability to both deeply understand science and to methodically break down a product, dietary question or piece of advice in a way that's educational (you actually learn something about your body), actionable (you understand what to do with the information) and foundational (you can build on that knowledge in the future to continue to make better choices).

As we spent more time, our combined passion for microbes, their potential impact on both human health and the environment, and how to set up a child for a healthy life became increasingly clear. And through birth, seeding (the process by which we get our foundational microbes and the inspiration for the name of our company) Pax and my struggles with breastfeeding, my entrepreneurial spirit was lit to build something with Raja. His deep experience in translating science to product, and mine in consumer, community-building and translating through storytelling, culminated in a shared vision to set a new standard in health through bacteria.

Q. Probiotics have been trending in recent years, but they're nothing new—can you talk a bit about the importance of probiotics?

Interest in gut health and probiotics increases month by month. However, despite the quickly growing number of "probiotic" supplements, foods and beverages out there, there's still a lot of consumer confusion—particularly around what they are, how they work and why we should take them. Probiotics have been studied extensively across various life stages, body sites and for many benefits. Digestion is an obvious and immediate one (and the primary reason most people currently take probiotics). But other strains have also been studied for skin health, heart health and gut health (including gut immune function and gut barrier integrity). But this doesn't mean that any and all probiotics can do these things—this is the importance of 'strain specificity.' In other words, ensuring that the specific strains in your probiotic have been studied for the benefit you desire is critical.

Seed Daily Synbiotic

Seed

Seed's Daily Synbiotic is a 24-strain probiotic + prebiotic formulated for whole-body benefits, including gut, skin and heart health.


Q. How do probiotics play a role in your life?

I mean, I take them, I develop them and I work with some of the leading scientists from around the world advancing the field—so they play a big role. As for my personal health, I take our Daily Synbiotic daily and my son also takes specific strains for gastrointestinal health and gut immune function. Beyond that, it's the re-orientation around my microbiome that guides many of my choices: how important fiber is, specific compounds like polyphenols found in berries, green tea and other foods, avoiding the use of NSAIDS like ibuprofen and antibiotics when not needed, exercise, sleep and time in nature [are] all aspects of our daily life that impact our microbiome and our health.

Q. What are some misconceptions about probiotics that you would like to set straight?

There's one main myth on from which all the other stem: that probiotics aren't considered a serious science. On the contrary, it's a field of inquiry that demands incredible rigor and extensive research. And when anything and everything from chocolate to ice cream to fermented food and kombucha to mattresses can call itself "probiotic" due to underregulation in the category, that grossly undermines the science and their potential.

The term 'probiotic' has a globally-accepted scientific definition that was actually co-authored by our Chief Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid ,for the United Nations/World Health Organization.

At Seed, we work to reclaim the term for science, through the development of next-generation probiotics that include clinically validated strains and undergo the most rigorous safety, purity and efficacy testing procedures. Because why would you invite billions of unknown microbes into your body without asking "what's in here, is it the correct dosage that was studied, and has that strain in that amount been studied in human clinical trials to do something beneficial for my body"?

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about what product you plan to launch next?

We are developing a pipeline of consumer probiotics to target specific ecosystems of the body and life stages, including a synbiotic for children. Our next product will reflect a unique breakthrough in the field of pediatric probiotics, which we are excited to announce soon.

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

Our Partners

This post is brought to you by Staples. While this was a sponsored opportunity, all content and opinions expressed here are my own.

One of the biggest changes in my household once my daughter started homeschooling was that, suddenly, everything and everyone in our home had to start pulling double duty. While I was used to wearing a lot of hats (mom, wife and WFH employee, to name a few), suddenly our dining room was also pulling shifts as a classroom. My laptop was also a virtual teacher. Our living room hutch was also a school supply closet.

If I didn't want my home to be overrun with an abundance of clutter, I had to find products that could multitask. Here are 10 products that are saving this WFH + homeschooling mama right now.

Stylish storage cabinet

Whether I need a place to keep the printer or just want to keep crayons and colored pencils organized, this pretty cabinet provides a mixture of exposed and hidden storage without clashing with my living room decor.

White board calendar + bulletin board

With so much on our plates these days, I need a visual reminder of our daily schedule or I'll forget everything. This dry erase version makes it easy to keep track of Zoom meetings and virtual classes—and I also love using the corkboard to display my daughter's latest work from art class.

Natural Recycled 3-Ring Binder

From tracking our curriculum progress to organizing my family's paperwork, I can never have enough binders. Even better, this neutral version is pretty enough that I can display them on the bookshelf.

Bamboo storage drawers

The instant you start homeschooling, it can feel like you're suddenly drowning in papers, craft supplies and more. Fortunately, these simple bamboo drawers can be tucked into the cabinet or even displayed on top (seriously, they're that cute!) to keep what we need organized and close at hand.

Laminated world map

I love this dry-erase map for our geography lessons, but the real secret? It also makes a cute piece of wall decor for my work space.

Rolling 7-drawer cabinet

When you're doing it all from home, you sometimes have to roll with the punches—I strongly recommend getting an organizational system that rolls with you. On days when both my husband and I are working from home and I need to move my daughter's classes to another room, this 7-drawer cabinet makes it easy to bring the classroom with us.

Letterboard

From our first day of school photo to displaying favorite quotes to keep myself motivated, this 12"x18" letterboard is my favorite thing to display in our home.

Expandable tablet stand

Word to the wise: Get a pretty tablet stand you won't mind seeing out every day. (Because between virtual playdates, my daughter's screen time and my own personal use, this thing never gets put away.)

Neutral pocket chart

Between organizing my daughter's chore chart, displaying our weekly sight words and providing a fits-anywhere place to keep supplies on hand, this handy little pocket chart is a must-have for homeschooling families.

Totable fabric bins

My ultimate hack for getting my family to clean up after themselves? These fabric bins. I can use them to organize my desk, store my oldest's books and even keep a bin of toys on hand for the baby to play with while we do school. And when playtime is over, it's easy for everyone to simply put everything back in the bin and pop it in the cabinet.

Looking for study solutions for older children? Hop over to Grown & Flown for their top picks for Back to School.

Work + Money

Cameron Diaz on having a baby at 47: 'You really have to work hard for it'

"The only pressure for me now is I have to live to be, like, 107, you know? No pressure!"

This is the decade that saw the face of first-time motherhood change. The number of first-time mamas under 30 is shrinking, while more and more women are becoming moms after 40.

Cameron Diaz is one of them. The actress and businesswoman, now 48, became a mom in January at the age of 47. In a new episode of Naomi Campbell's YouTube series, No Filter, Diaz opens up about what it's like to become a mom in your fourth decade.

"A lot of people do it the other way around ... they get married [and] have a family in their youth," says Diaz."I'm kind of doing it in the second half of my life."

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