Fortify for Breastfeeding Mothers and Their Children

Breastfeeding is a critical time for the development of a child and a demanding time for the mother’s body. The mother needs increased nutrition to produce enough quality breast milk for her newborn to grow and be healthy. Mothers are at risk of developing diseases and illnesses if they are malnourished while breastfeeding. Consequently, it is very important for both the mother and newborn to consume nutritious food while she is breastfeeding.

Nutritional Needs

Women who are breastfeeding require more vitamins and minerals compared to those who are not. For example, vitamin A recommendations increase from 700 µg to 750 µg/day during breastfeeding, vitamin B12 recommendations increase by 0.4mg/day, and an additional 3.2 mg/day of zinc is also recommended for breastfeeding women.  

Newborns also have high nutritional demands, and the current recommendation to ensure good nutritional status for them is to exclusively breastfeed babies for six months, and to continue breastfeeding into the second year of life.

Consequences of Deficiencies

Infants need vitamins A, D, K, C, B1, B6, B9 (folate) and B12, but the levels of these vitamins decrease in breast milk when the mother is experiencing vitamin deficiency. Without these necessary vitamins, the newborn is at risk of developmental delays and malnourishment.

Mothers are also at risk of illness when they are not properly nourished while they are breastfeeding. For example, the combined demands of milk production and menstruation could draw heavily on the mother’s iron reserves, putting her at risk of anemia.

Extent of Problem

When intake of energy and other nutrients does not increase during pregnancy, lactation, and periods of high physical activity, a woman’s own reserves are used, leaving her weakened and malnourished. During lactation, maternal stores of energy, protein, and other nutrients need to be established, conserved, and replenished to ensure both the health of the mother and adequate levels of micronutrients in her breast milk for her newborn.

Studies in developing countries showed that malnourished mothers were able to provide only 69% of the infants' protein requirements at birth, and only 51% at 3 months. In the same studies, 123% of calorie requirements were supplied at birth but only 55% were supplied at 3 months. Low levels of vitamin A, B, and C, and of calcium have also been found in the milk of mothers from developing countries.

How Fortification Helps

Fortifying food with vitamins and nutrients improves the health of breastfeeding mothers and their children. Specifically, it helps prevent nutritional anemia and iron deficiency. In addition, women who consume foods fortified with necessary vitamins and nutrients see an increase of average birth weight of their children by around 60-73 grams. One study in Cameroon found that breastfeeding women had improvements in their iron, zinc and folate levels (among others) after wheat flour fortification was initiated. The study found that after fortification, the prevalence of anemia decreased among all women, and vitamin B12 in breast milk increased incrementally.

Fortification of foods can help decrease the prevalence of disease and promote greater health for mothers and children around the world.

Top Photo Credit:@istockphoto