Staying healthy is critical for both you and your baby, especially during cold and flu season. Boosting immunity by eating nutritious food is a great place to start.
But sometimes (OK, all the time!), life gets hectic, and eating is something you do between nursing, work, and caring for other kids.
To fill the gaps, a lot of breastfeeding folks consider taking immune-boosting supplements in addition to their daily postnatal multivitamin.
But is that safe?
Here’s what you need to know about boosting immunity with supplements while pregnant.
Taking a multivitamin while breastfeeding is something your doctor will likely discuss with you during a prenatal visit or your 6-week checkup.
Since many people continue taking their prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding, most of the key nutrients needed during the postpartum period are already covered.
That said, there are some essential nutrients breastfeeding moms should make sure they are getting daily. According to Sherry Ross, MD, an OB-GYN in Santa Monica, California, if you’re breastfeeding, you should focus on the following essential nutrients:
- folic acid
- vitamin A
- vitamin B6
- vitamin B12
- vitamin C
- vitamin D
- DHA — docosahexaenoic acid, a type of omega-3 fat
Looking for the right postnatal vitamin?
To help boost immunity, check the label of your multivitamin for vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin B complex, probiotics, and zinc.
Some immune-boosting supplements also contain echinacea and elderberry, but according to the National Library of Medicine’s Drug and Lactation Database, no data exists on the safety and efficacy of elderberry or echinacea in nursing mothers or infants.
In addition to a multivitamin or additional supplements, making healthy food choices can also boost your nutrient intake. Mary Gollan, RD, a certified lactation consultant on the team at Preg Appetit!, recommends that breastfeeding moms follow these dietary guidelines when preparing a meal:
- 1/2 plate fruits and veggies
- 1/2 cup whole grains
- 3 ounces lean protein
- dairy at every meal
To help with energy and keep you producing milk, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend breastfeeding moms eat about 450 to 500 extra calories a day. Generally speaking, for most women this equates to about 2,500 calories per day.
Whether or not you should take supplements is a conversation you need to have with your doctor or a registered dietitian.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says if you follow a restrictive diet, you may not get adequate nutrients through food, which increases the risk of nutritional deficiencies.
With that in mind, Ross says that supplementing with certain immune-boosting supplements, in addition to a multivitamin, is safe as long as you take a well-established brand that delivers safe dosages.
The key is not to exceed the recommended daily amount and to only take supplements that are proven safe to consume while breastfeeding.
Moreover, Rachel Borton, PhD, director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Online Program and assistant professor of nursing at Bradley University, reminds us that each mom and baby has a unique individual health history.
Because of this, you cannot assume that every over-the-counter supplement is safe to consume, since breastfeeding moms will also be sharing the supplements through their breast milk with the infant.
“There are some supplements that mothers want to avoid (for their own health safety or for milk production effects), and their provider will have the best knowledge as to what is appropriate for both mom and baby,” Borton says.
- Safety: Yes, vitamin C is safe to take while breastfeeding.
- Amount: 120 milligrams (mg) is the daily recommended amount for people who are breastfeeding.
- How it helps boost immunity: You need vitamin C for the growth and repair of all tissues. According to clinical research, vitamin C may decrease how long you experience cold symptoms.
- Remember this: Most vitamin C supplements will contain more than the recommended amount for breastfeeding people. Always check with your doctor before taking a vitamin C supplement.
- Consider shopping for: Nature’s Bounty Vitamin C.
- Safety: Yes, vitamin D is safe to take while breastfeeding.
- Amount: 600 IU (international units) is the daily recommended amount for people who are breastfeeding. That said, “Getting your vitamin D level checked is important in knowing how much supplementation is necessary,” according to Ross. Your doctor may recommend a different amount of supplementation daily, based on your blood test results.
- How it helps boost immunity: Vitamin D helps your immune system function properly. And some research says it may help lower the risk of acute respiratory infections, especially in people who are deficient.
- Consider shopping for: Garden of Life Vitamin D3
- Safety: Yes, vitamin B complex is safe to take while breastfeeding.
- Amount: The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) varies by B vitamin. Here is the RDA for consumption daily during lactation, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health:
- B1 (thiamine): 1.4 mg
- B2 (riboflavin): 1.6 mg
- B3 (niacin): 17 mg NE (niacin equivalents)
- B5 (pantothenic acid): 7 mg
- B6 (pyridoxine): 2.0 mg
- B7 (biotin): 35 micrograms (mcg)
- B9 (folic acid): 600 mcg DFE (dietary folate equivalents)
- B12 (cobalamin): 2.8 mcg
- How it helps boost immunity: The B vitamins are the building blocks of a healthy body, so they help you maintain overall good health. They work together to help keep energy levels up and boost the body’s defense system against germs.
- Consider shopping for: Garden of Life Raw B-Complex or Integrative Therapeutics Active B-Complex. Most vitamin B complex supplements will contain more than the RDA for lactation. Always check with your doctor before taking a vitamin B supplement.
- Safety: More reliable medical studies are needed to make recommendations on the dosing and how it can potentially affect a breastfeeding baby. There’s not enough evidence to determine safety for breastfeeding moms — some medical studies say it’s safe while others say it should be avoided. Check with your doctor before taking echinacea.
- Amount: There are no dosage recommendations for echinacea while breastfeeding.
- How it helps boost immunity: Echinacea may help boost your immune system by combating infections and viruses. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), echinacea may slightly reduce your chances of catching a cold.
- Safety: Yes, probiotics are safe to take while breastfeeding.
- Amount: Probiotic supplements contain a wide variety of microorganisms and amounts. You’ll see the number of colony forming units (CFU) listed on supplement labels. Ask your doctor or registered dietitian for the safe amount to take while breastfeeding.
- How it helps boost immunity: “When it comes to breastfeeding, we know that breast milk contains healthy probiotics that are passed onto the baby that help strengthen the gut flora that can protect against infections and helps their developing immune response,” Ross says.
- Consider shopping for: Jetson Probiotics Immunity. Ross says this product provides probiotics that can help strengthen your immune system and help reduce your chance of getting colds and upper respiratory infections. Also consider Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Probiotics Once Daily Prenatal.
- Safety: Like echinacea, Ross says elderberry is also controversial to take while breastfeeding. Some medical studies say it’s safe, while others say it should be avoided. More reliable medical studies are needed to make recommendations on the dosing and how it can potentially affect a breastfeeding baby. There’s not enough evidence to determine safety of elderberry for breastfeeding moms. Check with your doctor before taking elderberry.
- Amount: There are no dosage recommendations for elderberry while breastfeeding.
- How it helps boost immunity: According to the NIH, elderberry may relieve symptoms of the flu or other upper respiratory infections. One 2016 study found that elderberry may reduce the duration of a cold and reduce cold symptoms.
- Safety: Yes, zinc is safe to take while breastfeeding.
- Amount: 12 mg is the daily recommended amount for breastfeeding moms. The NIH says the tolerable upper limit for adults is 40 mg.
- How it helps boost immunity: Zinc can help the immune system fight off viruses and bacteria, according to the NIH.
- Consider shopping for: Garden of Life Raw Zinc, suggests Ross. It’s important to note that while this product is below the upper limit for adults, it contains more zinc than is recommended during breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor before adding extra zinc to your multivitamin.
Ross says dietary supplements like Airborne and Emergen-C are not recommended while breastfeeding since adequate medical studies have not been performed to show their effectiveness and safety.
“The amount of vitamin C in Emergen-C exceeds the recommended dose for breastfeeding moms,” she adds.
If you’re concerned about getting sick, Ross says it’s probably best to take a probiotic and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to help prevent illness while breastfeeding.
Taking immune-boosting supplements while breastfeeding can provide health benefits to both mom and baby. At a minimum, you should take a postnatal multivitamin or a product that includes the necessary nutrients for breastfeeding.
If you want to take additional supplements, check for safety, and make sure you are not exceeding the daily recommended dose. But before you take any supplements while breastfeeding, make sure to talk with your doctor.