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Study: Most Breast-Feeding Moms Aren't Getting the Nutrients They Need

Study shows breast-feeding moms may not get the nutrients they need
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

We've heard it for years now: "Breast is best." But a new study has found that most breast-feeding moms today aren't actually getting enough of the key nutrients needed to pass along to their babies. In fact, when it comes to our diets in general, it seems there's a lot of room for improvement.

The small study, led by Abbott Nutrition (makers of Similac), examined the diets of 89 breast-feeding moms, and found that 9 out of 10 of them were low in three vital nutrients: DHA, lutein and Vitamin E. According to research scientist and nutrition expert Christina Sherry, that's cause for concern.

"These are key nutrients that are really important for infants' brain and eye development," Sherry told Mom.me. "So when Mom's breast-feeding, those nutrients are coming from Mom's breast-milk, and it's important that Mom is consuming sources of these key nutrients [every day]."

To get a better idea of just how important these missing nutrients are, allow us to give you the rundown on the three key players: DHA (or docosahexaenoic acid) is a fatty acid critical for a baby's brain development. Running low means babies are at risk for learning disabilities and other cognitive issues. Lutein, on the other hand, plays a major role in supporting eye health, preventing chronic eye disease and even cataracts. As for Vitamin E, you're probably already aware that it does wonders for the skin, but did you also know that this all-important antioxidant has been found to protect against heart disease and slow the aging process? When it comes to a baby's growth, the boost it gives to cell development is crucial in those first few months of life.

The study also revealed another eye-opening stat: Over 50 percent of moms did not meet the recommended daily amounts of fruits, veggies and even dairy, which means their overall nutrition was pretty lacking.

In light of these findings, Sherry reminds new moms not to neglect their own nutritional needs as much as possible. (We know, easier said than done in those hectic first months, when everything's a blur and you're practically a walking zombie.) But considering your own diet is so intertwined with your baby's during the breast-feeding stage, it's worth paying close attention to.

"I think a lot of moms just aren't aware that the nutritional needs during breast-feeding are the greatest," says Sherry. "Many moms focus on nutrition during pregnancy and then just focus everything on the baby once the baby comes." The fact that we're all so busy and short on time these days isn't helping matters, either.

So what's a mom to do? Try sneaking in more nutrient-packed foods like nuts, salmon, broccoli and lots of leafy greens, which are all great ways to fill in the gaps diet-wise. As for recommended daily amounts, experts say breast-feeding moms should take in around 200 milligrams of DHA, 19 milligrams of Vitamin E and 4-7 milligrams of lutein per day.

But for those who can't promise to meet these needs every single day, Sherry suggests looking into breast-milk supplements. A good portion of the study's research was devoted to testing Similac's new-to-market breast-feeding supplement, which was found to greatly impact breast-milk lutein levels in particular, as well as DHA and Vitamin E. Not only was it found to boost breast-milk quality, but it also was linked to better milk-flow.

Think your regular multi-vitamin has all the extra nutrients you need? Not so, says Sherry. "The reality is that many women find it difficult to eat a well-balanced diet while adjusting to caring for a newborn," Sherry told MarketWatch. "And even though many women may continue to take a prenatal vitamin during this time, many prenatal vitamins do not have, or have enough, DHA, lutein and vitamin E."

The Similac Breastfeeding Supplement is now available at Babies R' Us in a 30-day supply for just $9.99 a bottle. If you're interested, you can learn more about it at Similac.com.

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