Magnesium: Why Breastfeeding Moms Need This Mineral
As a breastfeeding mother, you know that your breast milk is the best source of nutrition for your newborn.
Health authorities all over the world recommend that infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
Even beyond six months, the recommendation is to continue breastfeeding (in addition to giving solid foods) until your baby is at least two years old.
One of the most vital nutrients you and your child need is magnesium, a mineral that is abundant in the body.
Magnesium is essential to more than 700 enzyme systems that regulate diverse reactions in the body, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Why You’re Not Getting Enough Magnesium
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body. Not surprisingly, it plays a large role in your overall health.
It plays a significant role in hydration, muscle relaxation, energy production and crucially, the deactivation of adrenaline.
Adrenaline is a stress hormone, which can interfere with the production and let down of milk. Because of that, keeping stress levels low is really important for breastfeeding.
For more on the many benefits of magnesium for general health, check out our Top Ten Magnesium Benefits.
An estimated 80% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium from their food. This is due in large part to poor eating habits, though even a healthy diet can be lacking in magnesium, for reasons that we’ll get into shortly.
Sleeplessness and high levels of stress, as well as certain medications, also contribute to magnesium deficiency, since they actually flush magnesium from the body.
Given that sleep deprivation tends to go part and parcel with being a new parent, your need for magnesium supplementation is probably high, regardless of whether or not you are breastfeeding.
Many people report that their sleep improves almost immediately when they begin using a topical magnesium supplement, especially right before bed.
If you want to get more magnesium from food, you can try:
- green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
- sea vegetables, like kelp
- beans and legumes
- whole, unrefined grains
- tap water (particularly hard tap water)
- some brands of mineral water
- red meats
- a variety of fish, including mackerel and halibut
It’s hard to get enough magnesium from your diet, though, even if you eat well, in part because our food sources today have less magnesium than those same food sources did 50-100 years ago. This is largely because of industrial farming practices, which have stripped the soil of many nutrients.
Because of this, an estimated 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium.
More Mag for Nursing Mothers
The National Institutes of Health reports that dietary surveys of Americans consistently show that intakes of magnesium are lower than recommended amounts.
Data from a study done in 2005-2006 found that a majority of Americans of all ages ingest less magnesium from food than the estimated amount required for them to meet their needs.
Magnesium helps build and repair your body’s tissues. When you’re pregnant, that’s especially important because you’re also building a new person’s tissues from scratch!
It’s recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women get 20% more magnesium per day than the average person. Since the body can’t create magnesium, it has to come from outside, so breastfed babies have to get it all from breastmilk.
Eileen Behan, R.D., in her book on nutrition and breastfeeding, says that breastfeeding mothers consuming fewer than 2200 calories a day are probably not getting enough magnesium, no matter what they’re eating.
Dr. Carolyn Dean recommends taking a magnesium supplement while nursing. She recommends that breastfeeding mothers get about 600mg of magnesium daily (by contrast, adult women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding are encouraged to get 300mg per day).
It’s important to know that oral magnesium supplements can be hard for your body to absorb, so that means less magnesium in your bloodstream and in your breastmilk.
A topical spray is absorbed through the skin, which can mean better absorption and also less strain on the digestive system (too much magnesium can result in loose stools or diarrhea, which is why milk of magnesia is an old remedy for constipation).
Of course, you should talk to your doctor about supplementation before getting started, especially if you are pregnant or nursing.
Why Your Baby Needs Magnesium
Just like adults, babies and children need magnesium for bone strength and to support heart health. It also helps to keep their immune systems functioning at their peak and aids in maintaining muscle and nerve function as well.
Given that magnesium is often associated with better sleep, it’s not surprising that when breastfeeding moms get more magnesium in their diets or through supplementation, many of them find that their babies sleep better too, as it leads to more magnesium in the breast milk.
If your baby tends to have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or has fitful sleep, try boosting your magnesium intake and see if it helps.
While your newborn should be able to get sufficient magnesium from your breastmilk as long as you are getting enough through diet and supplements, what about once your breastfeeding baby starts eating solids (recommended at 6 months) in addition to breastmilk?
In the first couple of months, your baby will still be getting most of her nutrients from your breastmilk. At this stage, solid foods are really more about testing new flavors and textures and developing motor skills than they are about nutrition. In other words, you should still be focusing more on your own magnesium levels to ensure that your breastmilk has enough for your 6-9 month old.
In other words, you should still be focusing more on your own magnesium levels to ensure that your breastmilk has enough for your 6-9 month old.
Once your baby is actually getting solid foods into her tummy in reasonable quantities, you do want to make sure that she’s getting magnesium from solid food sources too, like the ones we listed above. Other magnesium-rich foods that tend to be popular with little ones are bananas, avocados, raisins and oatmeal.
Young children should never be given oral supplements unless the child’s doctor has specifically recommended them. Continued breastfeeding will help to keep your baby’s magnesium levels nice and high, as long as your own magnesium levels are adequate.
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