Can I Take Zinc While Breastfeeding?

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Just like during pregnancy, eating a healthy and varied diet while breastfeeding will help provide both you and your baby with the nutrients you need to thrive throughout the fourth trimester. In particular, the amount of zinc you need increases when you are lactating, as it is integral for both your baby’s growth and development and your overall health. 

However, if the demands of early parenthood have meant that preparing healthy meals has slipped down your list of priorities, you might be wondering if it is safe to take a zinc supplement. The short answer is yes, provided that you do not exceed the recommended daily limit of 40 mg.

"It is generally safe to take a zinc supplement or multivitamin with zinc in it while breastfeeding," confirms Alice Sutton, MD, FACOG, an assistant clinical professor at the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at UC San Diego Health. "Many lactating individuals continue to take a prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding, and many prenatal vitamins contain zinc."

While the benefits of getting enough zinc are extensive, there are a few considerations to take into account before supplementing your diet with it. 

What Is Zinc?

Zinc is an essential mineral that plays several different important roles within the body, including supporting immune function, wound healing, metabolism and digestion. In infants and children, zinc is crucial for healthy growth and development.

As it is an essential mineral, our bodies are unable to produce or store zinc. It can be taken as a supplement but also occurs naturally in a variety of different foods, including fish, meat, seeds, and nuts. Zinc can also be found in some over-the-counter cold and flu medications. 

For adult males, the recommended daily allowance of zinc is 11 mg, while the recommended daily amount for adult females is 8 mg per day. For most people, this recommendation can be met by consuming a healthy and balanced diet

However, zinc needs increase during infancy, childhood, and pregnancy. When lactating, the recommended daily allowance rises to 12 mg per day.

Is It Safe To Take Zinc While Breastfeeding?

Not only is zinc generally considered safe to take while breastfeeding, but many health professionals also advise that you do, since the recommended daily allowance increases from 8 mg to 12 mg when breastfeeding.

“Individuals who are breastfeeding are at increased risk of zinc deficiency,” says Dr. Sutton. In adults, the ill effects of zinc deficiency include a compromised immune system, diarrhea, weight loss, and difficulty concentrating. For breastfed infants who will rely on breastmilk as their primary zinc source, a deficiency can cause poor immune function and impair physical and cognitive development.

“The body does not store zinc, so it needs to be ingested every day,” explains Dr. Sutton. “Zinc is found in many foods and most adults in the United States have an adequate zinc intake. However, pregnancy and lactation deplete the body’s store of zinc so it may be wise to take a zinc supplement if an individual does not consume adequate zinc-containing foods.”

Although zinc is hugely important to our health, we only need to meet the recommended daily amount in order to reap its benefits. Getting more zinc than is required does not mean more health benefits, while excessive levels of zinc can lead to zinc poisoning.

Every breastfeeding journey is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about taking zinc while breastfeeding.

Benefits Of Taking Zinc While Breastfeeding

Getting an adequate amount of Zinc is crucial to a breastfeeding parent's overall health and their infant's growth and development. However, due to the demands of growing and feeding a baby, pregnancy and breastfeeding can deplete zinc levels. This can leave you susceptible to zinc deficiency, which is why taking a zinc supplement or including zinc-rich foods in your diet is recommended while breastfeeding.

"Zinc plays a role in immune function and wound healing, and is essential for cellular metabolism," says Dr. Sutton. Here, we take a closer look at some of zinc's complex roles within the body.

Supports Immune System

Zinc is necessary for the healthy function of the immune system, helping to stave off illnesses and infections. Studies have shown that taking zinc as soon as symptoms appear can shorten the length and severity of the common cold.

Encourages Postpartum Recovery

Zinc is essential to help heal wounds and skin lesions, making it one of the most beneficial nutrients you can take to aid childbirth recovery. Getting an adequate amount of zinc via diet or supplement could help heal injuries sustained during childbirth, such as a perineal tear or cesarean section.

Increase Zinc Content In Breastmilk

According to one study, increasing your zinc intake while breastfeeding could increase the concentration of zinc in your breastmilk. However, more research needs to be conducted before this evidence can be considered conclusive.

"There is mixed evidence for whether the levels of maternal zinc ingestion translate into levels of zinc in breast milk," says Dr. Sutton. "Some studies have shown that women with higher levels of zinc consumption had more zinc in their breastmilk, but other studies showed that levels of zinc in breastmilk were similar whether or not women consumed more zinc."

Safety Precautions

Zinc supplements are considered safe to take while breastfeeding, but there are several precautions you should be aware of first.

If you are on antibiotics, zinc can impact their effectiveness. “Zinc may inhibit the absorption of certain antibiotics,” explains Dr. Sutton. If you have been prescribed antibiotics, ask your healthcare provider if you should continue taking your zinc supplement alongside them.

Dr. Sutton also advises those taking zinc as part of a multivitamin to be aware of any additional ingredients, as they might not be safe for breastfeeding individuals. “Read the label so that you know what is in your vitamin,” urges Dr. Sutton. “Supplements are not FDA regulated and may not have been studied in lactating people, so I would avoid a product with a lot of extra ‘stuff’ in it. Stick with something that contains only the vitamins and minerals you want to take.”

Finally, extremely large quantities of zinc could cause zinc toxicity. Twelve milligrams of zinc daily is recommended while breastfeeding, with 40 mg per day being the upper limit. Symptoms of zinc toxicity include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. If you think you could be suffering from zinc poisoning, seek urgent medical attention. 

Breastfeeding-Safe Alternatives

While taking a zinc supplement is considered safe while breastfeeding, you may decide that you would prefer to meet your recommended daily intake through diet alone.

“I recommend that you get as many vitamins as you can from your food during pregnancy and the postpartum period as well, especially if you are breastfeeding," says Kamilah Dixon-Shambley, MD, FACOG, an assistant professor of OB/GYN at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "Zinc is heavily concentrated in beef and chicken and seafood. And of course, there are some nonmeat options like beans and cereals that you could explore." 

Oysters and red meat contain the highest levels of zinc. However, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dairy products are all also good sources of zinc. 

Per serving, a can of baked beans contains as much zinc (2.9 mg) as a pork chop, while an ounce of dried pumpkin seeds contains 2.2 mg of zinc. Meanwhile, a serving of fortified breakfast cereal contains more zinc per milligram than chicken. 

Not only will eating food from these groups boost your zinc levels, but you will also reap the other nutritional benefits that a healthy diet offers.

A Word From Verywell

Due to the extra demands on the body to grow and feed an infant, zinc levels can become depleted during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. You can get enough zinc through diet alone by eating zinc-rich foods like meat, shellfish, whole grains, and dairy. However, provided that you don’t exceed the recommended upper limit of 40 mg per day, it is also safe to take a zinc supplement while breastfeeding.

If you are taking zinc as part of a multivitamin, you should read the label carefully to ensure that it doesn’t contain an ingredient that is unsafe to take while lactating. Zinc can also interfere with certain antibiotics, so check with your OB/GYN, midwife, or healthcare provider for guidance before taking zinc alongside any medication.

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