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5 reasons to take postnatal vitamins after childbirth and the most important nutrients for postpartum recovery

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  • Postnatal vitamins help restore vitamin and mineral stores lost during pregnancy and childbirth. 
  • They contain calcium, vitamins B and D, iodine, choline, and other key nutrients for you and baby. 
  • Your care team can offer more guidance on choosing the right postnatal vitamin for your needs.

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.

Prenatal vs. postnatal vitamins

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: 

  • B vitamins, which help provide energy.
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which aids in baby’s brain development if you nurse.
  • Magnesium, which helps promote muscle relaxation.
  • Calcium and vitamin D, which support nursing and brain health.
  • Selenium and fatty acids, which help with hormone production.

Do you need postnatal vitamins?

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:

1. Aiding lactation and nursing

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:

  • Choline: Because breast milk is high in choline, your body needs higher amounts of it when lactating. Choline is key for infant brain development and supporting your nervous system. You’ll want to consume 550 milligrams (mg) of choline each day to support lactation.
  • Iodine: Pregnancy and lactation require higher iodine intake to support your thyroid function and metabolism. Getting enough iodine while nursing is important because it supports your baby’s brain development and can help prevent cognitive impairment. Experts recommend getting at least 290 micrograms (mcg) of iodine daily if you’re nursing.
  • Vitamin B12: Getting enough vitamin B12 during nursing may help prevent anemia for you and developmental delays for your baby. It’s a good idea to get at least 5.5 mcg of vitamin B12 each day — but if you have a deficiency, your doctor might recommend doses of up to 250 mcg. 
  • Vitamin D: Getting enough vitamin D while nursing supports immune, bone, and heart health for both you and your baby. Taking a postnatal vitamin that contains 10 to 50 mcg of vitamin D can help ensure your baby gets enough through your milk.
  • Calcium: Nursing can increase your risk of osteoporosis later in life, but supplementing with calcium can help support bone strength. You’ll want to consume at least 1,300 mg of calcium each day to support nursing.

2. Preventing anemia

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.

3. Reducing hair loss

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.

4. Balancing hormones

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.

5. Easing post-birth contractions and muscle cramps

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. 

How long should you take postnatal vitamins?

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: 

  • Whether you plan to nurse, and for how long: For instance, if you nurse for 18 months, you might want to take a postnatal vitamin that entire time, plus several months after weaning.
  • Any current vitamin deficiencies: If your care team identifies specific nutrient deficiencies, they might recommend taking certain supplements for a longer amount of time.
  • If and when you plan to have another baby: If you plan to have another baby within the next couple of years, your doctor or midwife may suggest taking a postnatal or prenatal vitamin all the way up to and through your next pregnancy — especially if you experience a persistent nutrient deficiency.

How to choose the right postnatal vitamin

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. 

  • Consider your symptoms: You can use postnatal vitamins with additional amounts of specific nutrients to target specific issues like fatigue, hair loss, or mental health concerns, Roelands says.
  • Keep your nursing needs in mind: If you’re nursing, your nutritional needs will be even higher than if you aren’t lactating. You’ll want to make sure your supplement provides enough daily iodine (290 mcg) and choline (550 mg), in particular.
  • Factor in the price: Since you might be taking postnatal vitamins for 6 to 12 months, it’s important to make sure they fit into your budget, Roelands says. Cheaper vitamins can work just as well as more expensive name-brand options — just be mindful of unwanted fillers and ingredient sources, which can have an impact on how your body absorbs the nutrients.
  • Choose supplements that have undergone third-party testing: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate supplements, so third-party testing helps verify you are, in fact, getting the nutrients printed on the label. It also helps keep you and your baby safe from additives and fillers. 
  • Consider allergens and dietary needs: If you have any allergies, follow a specific diet, or are sensitive to a specific nutrient like iron, you might want to choose a postnatal vitamin without these ingredients. For instance, if you’re following a plant-based diet, you might prefer to avoid vitamins that use gelatin or other animal byproducts. 

Insider’s takeaway

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.

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