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Are Prenatal and Postnatal Vitamins the Same? A Closer Look

pregnant mom taking her prenatal vitamin

Are postnatal vitamins really necessary? What’s the main difference between the two? Why are postpartum nutrients important? We dive into these questions and more.

Do you often wonder if you’ll ever get that pre-baby energy back? Those restful nights, easy-going nature, and happy pep in your step?

postpartum mom holding a hand of supplements

In those early postpartum days, sometimes just getting dressed and showering can seem overwhelming, let alone preparing a healthy meal for yourself.

It is possible to get back to feeling great. You can feel a difference almost immediately with some very simple nutrient additions. 

But how do you know what your body needs? Will taking a postnatal supplement make a difference? Read on to learn what to look for and how a swap from a pre to postnatal supplement can impact your daily life.

Do you really need postnatal vitamins?

The short answer is: yes, you really do need a postnatal vitamin, but not every postnatal is created equal.

Most of us assume any prenatal vitamin you can find at your local drugstore will suffice to support you and your baby through pregnancy.

However, the average consumer does not realize the vast majority of the supplements on the shelves are not adequate in quality or quantity of nutrients to support this intense phase of growth and need, let alone the increased needs of the postpartum period. 

Aside from the vitamins we take, the nutrient density and variety of the food we eat tend to decrease, sometimes dramatically, during pregnancy due to food aversions, lack of energy to prepare food, or that lovely pregnancy nausea many of us experience.

introducing the postpartum nutrition book with shop now button

A lower quality diet is often compounded in the postpartum period due to lack of time, support, and prioritizing the baby’s needs over our own. How many moms out there get to consume three balanced meals and snacks a day during those first postpartum months?

Don’t worry; we didn’t either.

As a result of a diet lacking essential nutrients and subpar prenatal supplements, most mothers enter into pregnancy depleted and transition to postpartum with even more depleted nutrient stores than before.

Nutrient deficiencies can exacerbate hormone imbalances and common postpartum autoimmune conditions like postpartum thyroiditis.

If a mother is breastfeeding or pumping, postpartum is the most nutritionally demanding time of a woman’s life, and requires nutritional support if she wants to feel good and thrive. It can even affect her mental health and postpartum depression.

For all these reasons, it’s important to seek a high-quality postnatal supplement to heal, support your breastfeeding baby, and get back to enjoying life as you are meant to.

pregnant mom taking her prenatal supplement

How a postnatal vitamin is different from a prenatal

If you reference the chart later in this post, you’ll see that nutrient requirements are different as you move through pregnancy and into motherhood.

There are some nutrients – like zinc and Vitamin A – that are required in greater quantity during lactation than pregnancy.

So, a postnatal is formulated with supporting a postpartum mother in mind.

A focus on boosting energy levels

B Vitamins, Zinc, and Iron are some big players that produce energy in our bodies. When they are plentiful, they work wonders in counteracting the fatigue that often comes with being a new mother.

But when they are depleted (like after birth and throughout postpartum), you feel drained. You will feel a difference with a postnatal supplement that provides you with adequate amounts and ideal forms of these nutrients. 

Some are formulated to address stress and anxiety

With everything we have on our minds, and our whole world turned upside down after the baby arrives, effective support in managing our newfound anxieties can make a profound difference.

Mineral and botanical support have strong evidence showing a reduction in postpartum anxiety, stress, and depression.

Specifically, magnesium, curcumin (in combination with piperine or fat), and lemonbalm are key players in this field.

Lemon balm acts as a nootropic in the brain, calming the nerves, relaxing the body, and promoting emotional balance. Curcumin works to reduce systemic inflammation, which is associated with postpartum depression.

Read next: A Naturopath Shares: Three Herbs for Postpartum Recovery

An emphasis on sleep

Any new parent knows just the absence of the sound of your baby’s breath could wake you from a dead sleep. We can kiss goodbye long, the long, deep periods of sleep of the past for a while.

However, that doesn’t mean the bursts of sleep we get throughout the day and night can’t accumulate to help us feel rested and ready to tackle mom life.

Magnesium, chamomile, and lavender can all lead to more restful sleep.

Magnesium activates our parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system and boosts melatonin production while lavender increases slow-wave sleep patterns (the deep REM sleep we all hear is the goal), and chamomile calms nerves and reduces insomnia

May support your milk supply

Clinical and anecdotal evidence show galactagogues may support or boost breast milk supply. Having the peace of mind that your body can produce the nourishment your baby needs is priceless.

Moringa and Red Raspberry Leaf are two of the most widely used and accepted galactagogues by Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs).

postpartum mom in grey sweatshirt taking her postnatal vitamin

Why postnatal ingredients matter

The form of the ingredients in your supplements matters. Look for a brand that uses active forms of vitamins and minerals. It determines how much your body can use and benefit from.

Otherwise, you may be flushing your investment down the toilet. 

For example, the main form of folate in the plasma is 5-MTHF. This is the “active” form of folate. Most supplements provide folate in the form of folic acid.

This cheap derivative requires many conversions in your body before it reaches its active form, leaving you with less of the useable nutrient than you thought you consumed.

Prenatal vs. postnatal vitamins difference: a closer look

The amount of vitamins and minerals your body needs postpartum, and as long as you are producing breastmilk, is greater in many ways than during pregnancy.

Some nutrients, like iron or folate, may be in lower demand postpartum, while others, such as choline, selenium, iodine, and Vitamins A, D, C, E, K2, and B Vitamins, are in much higher demand.

See Also

Here is a reference to see what ranges to look for in your prenatal and postnatal supplements:

Image Source: Semantic Scholar

The Percent Daily Value (%DV) you see listed on the ingredients panel of your vitamins tells you what percentage of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) a serving of that vitamin provides you.

However, the current RDAs were established using data from men, and estimated adjustments were made for age, sex, pregnancy, and lactation status. The bottom line, we need more research in women’s health, and the RDAs need to catch up to current research. 

All this is to say, seeing 100% or more of a certain nutrient on your vitamin may give you a false sense of comfort, as current data shows our needs are much greater.

For example, new research shows supplementing with 930 mg of choline is beneficial for pregnant and breastfeeding women and improves their child’s sustained attention as far as seven years old compared to mothers who only consumed the RDA of 480 mg.

So, don’t be alarmed if you find a high-quality supplement that has well over 100% DV of certain nutrients. Ask your provider to confirm the safety, and whether or not the additional amount of that nutrient is supported. 

pregnant mom taking her prenatal vitamin

How some herbs can enhance your postnatal vitamin

There are many botanicals that are routinely used by midwives, lactation consultants, and doulas to help postpartum mothers ease their symptoms and support their needs.

For example, lemon balm, chamomile, and lavender are known for calming stress and anxiety and supporting more restful sleep (in the few hours new moms get).

Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects help with postpartum healing, preventing clogged milk ducts, and improving mood. Moringa has been used for centuries as a galactagogue to help boost milk supply and is recommended by IBCLCs everywhere.

Red Raspberry Leaf aids the uterus in contracting down to its previous size after birth and is also used for lactation support.

One mom’s story with depletion

My postpartum experience with my first baby, struggling through depletion that led to low milk supply, stress and anxiety, little energy, and restless sleep, showed me the need for quality nutritional supplementation.

Even as a Registered Dietitian, I had trouble making a high-quality, nutritious diet a priority during postpartum, when my new baby was my top priority. It took more time than I had, intensive research, and partnering with lactation consultants and midwives to find the solutions to my problems.

By the time I had my second baby, all that research had paid off, and I was prepared for a nurtured postpartum.

Even though I had trouble remembering most things (thank you, mom brain), I incorporated my postnatal supplement into my routine by leaving it next to all my usual spots – the coffee maker, my pumping station, in the car, and in my nightstand. 

When I found a way to commit to nurturing myself, my increased energy, balanced moods, and more restful sleep allowed me to show up as the healthy, happy, relaxed new mama I wanted to be.

I had a plentiful milk supply and my baby, and I easily sailed through our breastfeeding journey. I had the energy to get dressed, get out of the house, show up to the playgroups, take walks, and do what I envisioned doing the first time, but felt too exhausted and anxious to tackle.

I felt the physical and emotional difference between nurturing my postpartum recovery with the vitamins, minerals, and botanicals it badly needs postpartum.

Moms are incredible and can do so much, but that doesn’t mean we can do it all without caring for ourselves. You can’t be your best when you’re running on empty. Put your oxygen mask on first.

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