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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Nutrition, Breastfeeding and Supplementary Foods

By Michael McBurney

This year’s World Breastfeeding Week emphasizes the need for breastfeeding support. With urbanization, many new mothers do not have the familial support found in other multi-generational communities. Without continued day-to-day support, it is difficult for many to continue breastfeeding for 6 months.

Breastfeeding is the best source of nutrients for an infant. Globally only 38% of infants are exclusively breastfed for 6 months. According to the 2011 US Breastfeeding Report Card, less than 15% of American children are exclusively breastfed at 6 months. California children are the most likely to be exclusively breastfed for 6 months (25%) and Mississippi children the least (6%). As Noreen Mucha wrote in her briefing paper, women need access to resources and more education to help them improve their own nutrition and that of their children.

Nursing increases the requirement for vitamins and minerals (USDA Pregnancy and Breastfeeding website). Although the pregnant woman is ‘eating for 2’, her micronutrient needs increases more (as a %) than her caloric needs. When surveyed, approximately 78% of pregnant women in the United States report taking one or more dietary supplement during the previous 30 days, although only 22% report using one with iodine. Generally, people who use dietary supplements have better nutrient intakes than those who don’t (Bailey et al. 2011).

Omega-3 fatty acids are needed for the development of the brain and eye. Human breast milk naturally contains omega-3 long-chain fatty acids. The omega-3 content of breast milk reflects the amount of pre-formed  DHA in the mother’s diet (Brenna et al. 2007). Women consuming more fish (the most significant source of dietary omega-3) have higher levels on omega-3 in their breast milk.

As children transition from exclusive breastfeeding, they face critical nutrient gaps which are not met by indigenous foods (Vosssenar et al. 2012). Programs providing additional nutrients through special supplementary foods to pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding and young children, like the World Food Program in Afghanistan, keep people healthy. As GAIN has identified, there is a need and an opportunity for innovative public private partnerships to drive collaboration, locally and globally, provide more essential nutrients during the first 1000 days and beyond. 


Vossenaar M, Hernandez L, Campos R, Solomons NW. Several ‘problem nutrients’ are identified in complementary feeding of Guatamalan infants with continued breastfeeding using the concept of ‘critical nutrient density’. 2012 EJCN doi:10.1038/ejcn.2012.170.

Bailey RL, Fulgoni VL, Keast DR, Dwyer JT. Dietary supplement use is associated with higher intakes of minerals from food sources. 2011 Am J Clin Nutr doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.020289

Gahche JJ, Bailey RL, Mirel LB, Dwyer JT. The prevalence of using iodine-supplements is low among reproductive-age women, NHANES 1999-2006. 2013 J Nutr doi:10.3945/jn.112.169326

Brenna JT, Varamini B, Jensen RG, Diersen-Schade DA, Boettcher JA, Arterburn LM. Docosahexaenic and arachidonic concentrations in human breast milk worldwide. 2007 Am J Clin Nutr 85:1457