You probably know that you need more nutrients while pregnant and breastfeeding. Your body needs more calories and macronutrients (from protein especially, but also carbs and fat), and also more micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). But another important category of increased need that isn’t often discussed is electrolytes.
From a nutrition perspective, electrolytes are just as important to your health as macronutrients, but they don’t get nearly the attention they deserve. What are electrolytes? What do they do? And why are they so needed? Let’s take a look.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are substances that have a positive or negative electrical charge when dissolved in water. Your body is about 60% water, and all of that fluid contains electrolytes!
Electrolytes get their name because your cells use electrolytes to conduct electrical charges in your body. These electrical charges help your muscles contract and help with chemical reactions in the body related to hydration and the balance of fluids inside and outside of cells.
The key electrolytes include sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, chloride, phosphate, and bicarbonate.
What do electrolytes do?
Electrolytes maintain fluid balance, keep your heart beating normally (which aids in blood flow and regulates blood pressure), supports bone health, influences your hormones, and supports adrenal health.
Why are electrolytes needed during pregnancy?
All of the bodily functions that are influenced by electrolytes are magnified during pregnancy. Your body has more fluid (including amniotic fluid and cervical fluid), more blood, and more hormones. Electrolytes support these increased demands and also help to alleviate common pregnancy symptoms that can arise from these demands, like headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, and swelling of your extremities.
Why are electrolytes needed during breastfeeding?
Like pregnancy, the demands on the body are magnified during breastfeeding. The body is regulating fluid balance, blood flow, and blood pressure as it recovers, it is dealing with a tremendous amount of fluctuating hormones (including thyroid hormones), and it is losing up to 25-30 additional ounces of fluid each day through breast milk. If those fluids and electrolytes aren’t replaced, you can be at risk for exacerbating postpartum concerns like fatigue, hormone imbalances, and insufficient milk supply.
In addition, we know that nutrient intake and supplementation during lactation can affect milk quality, and research suggests that a lack of electrolytes in breast milk can impact an infant’s health.
The bottom line
As fluid needs increase in pregnancy and breastfeeding, so do electrolyte needs. And just dehydration leads to health risks to you and baby, so do electrolyte deficiencies.
Stay properly hydrated during pregnancy and breastfeeding with a thoughtful electrolyte supplement like our Hydration Support. Our Hydration Support contains an optimal balance of refreshing electrolytes and trace minerals, and unlike most other electrolyte supplements available, it does not contain any sugar and is lightly sweetened and flavored with only real fruit.