Prenatal vs. Postnatal Vitamins: What’s the Difference and Does it Really Matter?

You know you need a prenatal before and during pregnancy, but what happens after delivery? Maybe your OB or midwife told you to stay on your prenatals. Maybe you’ve seen some postnatal vitamins on the market. You probably have questions, so we’re here to talk about it. 

Let’s dig in.

What Do Nutrient Needs Look Like in the Fourth Trimester? 

The Fourth Trimester and beyond is a period of recovery for your body. Whether you gave birth vaginally or via C-Section, your body is facing physiological and hormonal changes and your need for nourishment remains high. Nutrient needs are quite similar to pregnancy in both the type of nutrients and the amount of nutrients needed. Because of this, it is certainly wise to maintain a high quality supplement routine throughout the Fourth Trimester (and likely beyond). This is even more critical if you’re planning another pregnancy in the next few years.

But Do You Need Postnatal Vitamins?

While many different brands are marketing postnatal vitamins as a necessary addition to your post-baby routine, the reality is, most of them really aren’t much different than the brand’s prenatal counterpart. Even worse, they’re still lacking in nutrients you actually need during both pregnancy and postpartum.

For example, one popular brand adds in three nutrients to its prenatal formula in very small amounts. It adds 500mg of Vitamin A (one-third the amount included in Needed prenatal (and in a form that is not well absorbed by the body), only 25mg of Vitamin C (5% of what our prenatal offers and less than one-fifth of the (insufficiently low RDA), and 3mg of Zinc (12% of what is included in our prenatal and only 23% of the (insufficiently low RDA). This example also slightly increases Vitamins E, B12, and Iodine, but all are still substantially less than optimal amounts.

We’re left wondering why many postnatal vitamin brands don’t just include these needed nutrients in their prenatal formula, and why not add them in amounts your body actually needs? From our perspective, the problem isn’t that you need a separate postnatal vitamin, it's that most prenatal vitamins are so incomplete that they leave women depleted in postpartum and needing added support.

Certainly some women may face a deficiency in a particular nutrient due to individual factors like food intake and genetic predisposition, but not at the crazy high rates of depletion we see in the research (up to 95% of mamas). This widespread depletion has to be the result of women taking an incomplete prenatal before and during pregnancy. Rather than try to recover from the common deficiencies that other prenatals create, like Vitamins A, D, B12, and Omega-3s, we work to avoid deficiencies entirely by supplementing with a comprehensive prenatal from the get-go. For example, the standard dosage of Vitamin B12 is 2.8mcg. Studies have shown it can take 250mcg to address deficiencies, so our prenatal includes a dosage of 200mcg that is perfectly safe but also enough for mamas to stave off depletion. Of course, there are still individual factors to consider, and we always recommend getting your nutrient levels tested postpartum to be sure. You can always add-on from the solid base of a comprehensive Prenatal Multi like ours. 

Will they help with breastfeeding?

Postnatal vitamins are generally not designed as a breastfeeding supplement in the sense that they’ll support milk supply or milk quantity. However, they can support milk quality by boosting  levels of certain nutrients to enhance the composition of your breast milk. Some nutrients, like Calcium, will be present in your breast milk regardless of your intake. But others, like DHA and Vitamins A and C will be present only if you consume them, and milk levels vary with your intake levels. A nourished baby needs a nourished mama in more ways than one!

What if I'm not breastfeeding? 

While there is sadly very little information or research around nutrient needs for postnatal women who are not breastfeeding, we can use the information we do have to conclude that continuing your prenatal vitamin throughout the Fourth Trimester will support your recovery even if not breastfeeding. Pregnancy and birth place tremendous nutritional demands on your body and deficiencies can contribute to or exacerbate existing imbalances in hormones and autoimmune conditions. They can also impact the health of subsequent pregnancies.

Carrying and delivering a baby is among the most nutritionally demanding times in a woman’s life, and the body needs nourishment critically during this time. The nutrients in a prenatal vitamin, as well as the other key nutrients (those found in our Complete Plan) like Collagen protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, and specific probiotics are nourishing to mamas far beyond breastfeeding. For example, hydrolyzed Collagen protein supports tissue repair, Omega-3s support mood and brain health, and Vitamin D supports immunity, and Vitamin C supports immunity, blood building (Iron absorption), and Collagen production.

Our Approach

At Needed, we believe that a mama who is optimally nourished throughout pregnancy will have fewer deficiencies to make up in postpartum, and that most other prenatal vitamins available simply do not provide optimal nourishment for any phase of mamahood. Is a separate postnatal vitamin needed, or is a better prenatal vitamin needed? 

With 97% of mamas taking a prenatal vitamin and 95% ending up depleted, we believe in a better prenatal vitamin. It’s why we designed a different one. Our Complete Plan is formulated to optimally nourish a mama before, during, and after pregnancy. 

The bottom line: what you need before, during, and after pregnancy is far more alike than it is different, so before buying into the marketing of postnatal vitamins, take a closer look at your prenatal vitamin and see how well it’ll do to prepare you for a healthy postpartum. We're always here to help if you need help! Drop us a note at hello@thisisneeded.com