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What to Know About Postnatal Vitamins

Reviewed by Daniel Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

Most people understand the importance of prenatal vitamins, which promote a fetus’ development while improving a mother’s health. But many women don’t realize that their nutritional needs are just as vital during the postpartum period. This is especially true for breastfeeding mothers. 

Postnatal vitamins can prevent nutritional gaps that might harm new mothers and their infants. It’s important to understand their purpose and contents so you can choose the variety best suited to your unique needs as a new mother.

What Are Postnatal Vitamins?

Postnatal vitamins are designed to meet the health needs of women who have given birth. They share many core elements with prenatal vitamins, but some versions also account for concerns unique to the postpartum period. 

For example, postnatal vitamins may be designed to boost supply while breastfeeding or to help mothers recover from delivery. Many also address hormonal changes or sleep-wake rhythm shifts that often happen when you have a newborn. 

What Do Postnatal Vitamins Include?

Postnatal vitamins can depend on their intended purpose, but most include a few core nutrients:

Iron. Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin and deliver oxygen throughout the body. A lack of it can lead to anemia in new mothers. In infants, iron supports brain development. Data from the CDC suggest that most infants have enough iron stores for the first 4 months of life, but breastfed babies are often lacking after that. Once they begin solids, however, babies can meet their nutritional needs with iron-rich foods.

Vitamin D. Sometimes called calciferol, you can get vitamin D from food, sun exposure, or supplements. This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium, making it vital for healthy bone growth. It can also limit inflammation. Breastfeeding women should get 600 international units (IU) per day.

Vitamin D does not pass through breastmilk, so it’s common for breastfed infants to not get enough. Many experts recommend vitamin D drops. Otherwise, some infants get enough vitamin D from their formula.

DHA. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that’s included in some prenatal and postnatal vitamins. It’s crucial for a fetus’ growing brain but also for newborns and infants during a time of rapid growth. 

Mothers may get enough DHA in their diet to pass it on to their breastfed babies. Supplements can be helpful in all stages of infancy, especially for premature babies.

Choline. Like DHA, choline plays an important role in brain development. It also has many benefits for mothers, including better immune response.

The Institute of Medicine (now known as the National Academy of Medicine) recommends that women get 450 milligrams (mg) of choline per day during pregnancy and 550 mg per day while breastfeeding.

Postnatal vitamins may also include:

When and How to Take Postnatal Vitamins

As the name implies, postnatal vitamins should be taken after birth. Talk to your doctor about when you can start them.

How long you take these vitamins will depend on your reason for using them. Many women rely on postnatal vitamins while breastfeeding. Others stop taking them when a specific concern is over, like hormonal changes.

If you’re not sure whether you should continue taking postnatal vitamins, consider your health priorities. Don’t hesitate to check with your doctor. If you’d like to continue taking vitamins when you no longer require a postnatal variety, you can switch to a standard multivitamin.

Should I Take Prenatal or Postnatal Vitamins?

Your decision to use prenatal or postnatal vitamins after giving birth will depend on your priorities. It’s fine to take prenatal vitamins after birth, and doctors recommend them. If you found a brand you liked while pregnant, you may be able to continue taking the same type of vitamin after you’ve given birth.

If you’re concerned about your milk supply or have other postnatal issues, postnatal vitamins may be a better option. Your doctor can help you find the one that’s best for you. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Iron.”

Institute of Medicine: “Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin and Choline.”

John Hopkins Medicine: “What Really Helps You Bounce Back After Pregnancy.”

Maternal Health, Neonatology and Perinatology: “Docosahexaenoic Acid And the Preterm Infant.”

Mayo Clinic: "Breastfeeding Nutrition: Tips for Moms." 

Nutrients: “Choline: Exploring the Growing Science on Its Benefits for Moms and Babies,” “Feeding a Mixture of Choline Forms during Lactation Improves Offspring Growth and Maternal Lymphocyte Response to Ex Vivo Immune Challenges.”

Nutrition Research Reviews: "Nutrition and the Psychoneuroimmunology of Postpartum Depression." 

Pharmacy Times: “Prenatal and Postnatal Supplementation: “What Do Pharmacists Need to Know?”

PLoS One: “Do All Infants Need Vitamin D Supplementation?”

World Health Organization: Guideline: Iron Supplementation in Postpartum Women.”

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