After what I've learned, I'll never take synthetic vitamins again.
But hitting breastfeeding nutrient levels with just food is tough. So I went on a mission to create a breastfeeding vitamin from plants — to fill the nutrient gaps most common in breastfeeding, with zero synthetics.
Hey, I'm Abby. I'm not a food scientist, a dietician or a women's health expert. But I care deeply about women and equality. I've witnessed firsthand the health impact of motherhood undermining the power of women in my life - in their relationships, careers, social identity and mental health. I believe deeply that the health of women is key to a more empowered and equal future.
But back in 2015 where my story begins, I didn't think too deeply about women's health, or about vitamins. During pregnancy I took the prenatal recommended by my GP. It was basically synthetic nutrients including folic acid, from a major traditional manufacturer.
I had a healthy, natural birth and all was well. A few weeks after my baby was born, I started to feel depleted.
So, I went in search of something (anything!) that might help. Something that ensured I was getting key nutrients every day, for both me and bub. Probably, I thought, a breastfeeding vitamin.
My search for a breastfeeding vitamin
I started at the health food store, in the hope of finding something natural-ish. The plant based green powders I expected might help, all had warnings on the back about use during breastfeeding.
On top of this they didn't have detailed nutrition panels, so I didn't know the dosage per serve of key breastfeeding nutrients like Omega 3 DHA and Iodine. Any of the plant powders that did provide a detailed nutrition panel had nutrients levels way below the breastfeeding requirements. I couldn't find a single plant based supplement designed specifically for breastfeeding.
So, I gave up on plants and started to investigate the synthetic options. What I found astounded me.
First of all, vitamin manufacturers aren't required by law to disclose all of the ingredients in their formulations. They typically list the active nutrients and the allergens, and leave out the rest. So in most cases, shady fillers, binders and flavours are hidden from sight under IP law.
Second, most of the synthetics forms used in the breastfeeding vitamins I was vetting were the cheapest and most poorly bioavailable forms. Not only were they not delivered with the complex co-factors and enzymes plants contain, to aid absorption, but they weren't even the best synthetics science had to offer. The new synthetics in the literature were yet to surface in the supermarket aisles. Even the premium brands were premium only on the surface, they didn't seem to be adopting the latest synthetic nutrient forms.
Third, mixed evidence indicates a potential risk in taking synthetic forms at the mega doses found in traditional breastfeeding vitamins. Unmetabolized synthetic forms of many vitamins have been shown to pass through to baby, first through the umbilical cord during the pregnancy, then through breast milk. The consequences of this are still unknown. Separate research streams have shown that some synthetic nutrients bioaccumulate in the body, in adipose tissue (with other toxic excesses) — again, the impact of this is not yet known.
Seriously, why was this so hard. Breastfeeding women deserve better.
What should a breastfeeding vitamin really contain?
The vitamin industry clearly wasn't reflecting the science, so I turned to new sources. I started with the Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs) provided by the NHMRC (Australian Government) for lactation, and got an idea of the nutrient levels I should be hitting every day.
Then, things got complicated. I realised that I didn't need to supplement the entire daily intake for every vitamin, because I was eating a really healthy diet. So this wasn't about finding a vitamin to match the NRVs, it was about finding one to fill the gaps.
Obviously nutrient intake through diet varies significantly by woman and by day. But US NHANES data and Australian AIHW data revealed the same major nutrient gaps. In a nutshell, there was 6 nutrients modern breastfeeding women were most likely to lack and the consequences of depletion were dire.
It made me mad. That women were discharged from hospital without nutrition advice, that the focus on postnatal health checks was almost entirely on the baby, that we had all this evidence of mental and physical health impacts for women who lack these vital nutrients postnatally.
So the dream was born, find a way to fill these common nutrient gaps in breastfeeding women, with a safe, highly absorbable supplement.
Building a better breastfeeding vitamin
Sound simple on paper, right. I thought so too.
Over the next 2 years I worked with experts across nutrition, food technology, biochemistry and manufacturing. Eventually my growing team landed on a plant based supplement that ticked all the boxes. The problem was, it tasted like a dirty puddle of seawater. I was still feeding so I took it daily anyway.
All the marine algae and seaweed used in our formula (ideal sources of omega 3 fatty acids and iodine) came at a cost. I can see why the industry was hesitating to play with plants. Only die-hard health nuts would stomach this formula.
Our plants ingredients are so nutrient dense, we deliver the full lactation daily requirement of Omega 3 DHA, Vitamin B12, Biotin and Vitamin D, and top ups doses of Folate and Iodine — in two tasty 'chews'.
No synthetics, no dodgy fillers, fully transparent ingredients and an open source supply chain. It's sweetened with dates. Organic cocoa and peppermint oil take the taste to the next level.
Lacto is made for breastfeeding women like me. Women that read the back of the bottle.