Monday, July 09, 2012

Vitamin D and the Breastfeeding (or soon-to-be-breastfeeding) Mom

If you're a breast-feeding mom, you've probably heard-- from either your baby's pediatrician/your family doctor or all the formula companies that send you samples-- that your milk is likely deficient in Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that we need for calcium absorption (i.e. healthy strong bones & teeth).  It's present in raw milk from grass-fed cows, especially in the spring when grass is growing and very green, as well as in milk products made with raw milk (butter, cream, etc.).  It's also naturally found in cod liver oil & fatty fish, some in beef liver & egg yolks, and our bodies are able to make it when our skin comes in contact with the sun's UV rays.  Between drinking only pasteurized milk, staying indoors in the AC throughout most of the summer, and wearing gobs of sunscreen, it's not really surprising that most of us are vitamin D deficient.  The vitamin D that's added artificially back into pasteurized milk and filtered fish oils isn't absorbed nearly so well, because it's a different form of the vitamin and also because Vit D is best absorbed when vitamins A & K are also taken with it
It stands to reason that if a breast-feeding mom is vitamin D deficient, her milk will also be vitamin D deficient, which explains why rickets and Vit D deficiency are so common in the US.  However, if you don't want to supplement your baby with vitamin D (looking at the ingredients on the label made me shudder-- artificial flavoring and sweeteners among them), the best way to make sure he's getting vitamin D (in the form his body can best use, too!) is by making sure YOU have enough Vit D!  Yep-- you elevate your vitamin D levels enough, and your breast milk will become a perfect source of all the vitamin D your baby needs.  (Ideally, you'd be making sure your vit D levels were adequate throughout pregnancy so when baby comes you aren't starting from square 1.)

How much does a nursing mom need to have daily?  According to this article from the Council on Vitamin D, about 6000 IU (50 ng/mL).  That's a lot-- far higher than the recommended "400 IU."  How can you get that?  Well, you can partly get it from the sun:  if you are light-skinned, at least 3 20-minute sessions of full sunlight on most of your body (ie in a swimsuit or sleeveless top & shorts)-- just enough to get your skin to the slightest flush of pink. The goal is NOT to burn.  This article includes a fun little calculator, as well as an interesting connection between preterm birth and vitamin D (could be why minorities in the US have such alarmingly higher rates of preterm birth?  They have darker skin, and so need more time in the sun to get the same amount of vitamin D?) Quote from that article:
 "If you want to get out in the sun to maximize your vitamin D production, and minimize your risk of malignant melanoma, the middle of the day is the best and safest time to go. You just need to be very careful about the length of your exposure. Remember you only need enough exposure to have your skin turn the lightest shade of pink. This may only be a few minutes for some. Once you reach this point your body will not make any additional vitamin D and any additional exposure will only cause harm and damage to your skin."
The best source of whole-food vitamin D is fermented cod liver oil, best taken along with butter oil.  When taken together, far fewer IUs are needed to maintain adequate vitamin D blood levels.  Taken alone, 1 teaspoon of fermented cod liver oil gives ~1950 IU of vit D.  I personally can't stand the taste of cod liver oil, so I recommend capsules or the gels, which Eowyn thinks are a treat.  Read up on CLO & recommended brands here.

If you are a pregnant or nursing mother, please read the linked-to articles and spend some time trying to decide how to ensure that your milk contains adequate levels of vitamin D!  Again, this article from the Council on Vitamin D recommends: 
  1. Take a loading dose of 10,000 IU/day for a month.
  2. After one month on 10,000 IU/day, stop supplementing your infant with vitamin D as your breast milk should now be filled with vitamin D.
  3. Take 6,000 IU/day maintenance dose thereafter, except on days you get full body sun exposure.
If you're worried about toxicity, read this article-- getting vitamin D from natural (whole food or sunshine) sources means far FAR less possibility of getting toxic levels of vitamin A or D.  At the very least, head over to the health food store and get some 1000 IU vitamin D3 softgel capsules-- they are made from radiated wool oil, but it's still better than nothing-- you'd need to take 6 per day to get the 6000 IU maintenance dose, or 10/day to start out from nothing.

My strategy?   It's hard to know how much I'm getting without doing some calculations my new-mom-brain can't handle, so here's my "hoping 'tis enough strateg." :)  I didn't arrive at it by any precise science by any means, hah.  Since it's summer, daily I take:  2 capsules each of fermented CLO & butter oil (in winter I'd take 5-10 of each),  4 each JuicePlus fruit chews & veggie chews (these are basically dehydrated fruits & veggies) and 2 softgels of 1000 IU D3.  Once my babies are 4 months old (so still breastfeeding), we also start giving them 1/4 teaspoon of unflavored fermented CLO (it's super-good for their eye & brain development, especially linked to high verbal abilities, as well as stronger immune systems).  I drink raw milk, eat raw milk cheese and plenty of fatty fish, and stock up on spring butter when it's sold.  I'm very big on lots of time outside, building up a base tan by going out daily in the spring, yes, without sunscreen (I know I'm going majorly against the flow there... but that's another blogpost =D), and clothing on my babies while outside is pretty minimal. 


Christa said...

As a dairy farmer's daughter (who spent many of my growing-up years drinking raw milk from my dad's cows), just a caution to be VERY careful about the source of your raw milk. (My dad wouldn't let us drink anyone else's). Some very nasty diseases, including listeria & TB can be transmitted via raw milk. Back in the days before pastaurization and TB testing for cows, raw milk was one of the ways TB was transmitted.

Eowyn's Heir said...

Don't worry Christa- we get ours from a GREAT farmer. And disease/death from raw milk has been super rare in our country... all reported cases come from folks who either drank milk intended for pasteurization raw, or were mishandling it (making cheese in their bathtubs). There have been far FAR more cases of disease & death from raw spinach and peanut butter! You might find interesting!

Wakenda said...

For those fair skinned and considering the no sunblock route you are using, please consider family history of skin cancer. For me, the cancer concern far outweighs the Vitamin D concern.

Also, I'm glad that you have a raw milk source that practices extra testing and clean milking practices; but, Christa's right for those looking to start going that route, be careful of your source.

Eowyn's Heir said...

Yeah, obviously you don't want to be damaging your skin!! But if you stay out only long enough to have a slight flush each day, you'll be making as much vit D as your body can as well as keeping your skin healthy. The times when we've been at tropical latitudes or in situations of far more sun exposure than we're used to, we have all worn sunscreen (of the lowest toxicities we can find)... but like I said, the sunscreen question is a whole 'nother topic!

Anonymous said...

You and I are of one mind on these two issues... love the raw milk and I try to get daily sun exposure as much as possible even though I have a desk job. These both help to build a natural immunity to disease and sickness even when you are surrounded by others who have succumb to it, like I am. How did our ancestors survive but for these two essential elements supporting their immunity.

Thanks for sharing! I'm really loving your blog.

christa said...

lot more people eating raw spinach & peanut butter than raw milk! :) like everything else, know your source, (which you obviously do!)

Anonymous said...

Hey there, Im a long time reader, first time poster, theres a great article in Chatelaine this month about the benefits of Vitamin D and your health , worth the read , male OR female

Eowyn's Heir said...

Thanks Rachel!