The Vitamins in Breast Milk

Which Vitamins are Found in Breast Milk and What Do They Do?

The Vitamins In Breast Milk: What Are They and What Do They Do?
Which vitamins are in breast milk?. Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The Vitamins in Breast Milk

Vitamins are essential for your baby's growth and development. If you have a healthy diet, your breast milk should contain almost all the vitamins that your baby needs. However, even if you follow a healthy breastfeeding diet, you may find that your breast milk is low in certain vitamins, and you or your baby may need to take supplements.  For example, many mothers do not get enough Vitamin D, or if you're a Vegan, supplementation of Vitamin B12 may be necessary.

So, besides eating healthy, you can continue to take your prenatal vitamin and any other supplements that your doctor recommends while you're breastfeeding. You should also be sure to talk to your baby's doctor about the vitamin supplements that your child may need.

Here are the main vitamins found in breast milk:

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is necessary for healthy vision. Your breast milk contains enough vitamin A for your child. Colostrum, the first breast milk that is produced during the first week of breastfeeding, has twice as much Vitamin A as transitional or mature breast milk. These higher levels of vitamin A, especially beta-carotene, is what gives colostrum it's yellow-orange color. Formula-fed infants may need extra vitamin A, but breastfed children do not.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps to build strong bones and teeth. There is vitamin D in breast milk, but the levels vary from woman to woman depending on how much Vitamin D she gets.

You can get some vitamin D from your diet, but since you get most of your Vitamin D from the sun, your skin tone and where you live play a significant role in the amount of sun exposure and Vitamin D that you'll get. Because of these factors along with the protective measures that are often taken against sun exposure, many mothers do not have enough Vitamin D in their breast milk.

When babies do not get enough Vitamin D, they can develop a disease called rickets. Rickets causes soft bones that can break, bow legs, and other bone problems. Due to the risk of rickets in exclusively breastfed babies whose mothers are deficient in vitamin D, it is recommended that all breastfed infants receive a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU a day starting right after birth.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E protects the cell membranes in the eyes and the lungs. There is more than enough vitamin E in breast milk to fulfill the recommended daily requirements.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is involved in the production of blood clotting factors that help to stop bleeding. It's given to all infants when they're born. After a dose of vitamin K is given at birth, healthy breastfed babies and their mothers do not need any additional vitamin K supplementation. However, if there's a concern about your vitamin K levels, your doctor will prescribe vitamin K supplements to increase the levels of vitamin K in your breast milk.

 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a strong antioxidant. It helps to heal the body, support the immune system, and aid in the body's absorption of iron. Vitamin C also prevents a rare disease called scurvy.

Breast milk contains plenty of vitamin C. You do not need to take extra vitamin C supplements, and you do not have to supplement your breastfed baby with vitamin C. Even if you don't take any additional vitamin C, your breast milk will still have two times more than the recommended amount for formula.

However, smoking decreases the amount of Vitamin C in breast milk, so if you smoke will have lower levels, and you may need to add more citrus fruits or daily vitamin C supplements to your diet.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is required for healthy brain development. The amount of vitamin B6 in your breast milk is influenced by your diet. But, if you have healthy eating habits, it's not necessary to take B6 supplements. A typical daily supplement dose of B6 will increase the amount of B6 found in the breast milk, and is considered safe. However, very large doses of B6 have been found to decrease prolactin levels and, therefore, the amount of breast milk that you make. 

Folate

Folate contributes to the health and development of children. The amount of folate in breast milk is directly related to your diet. The supplement form of folate is folic acid. If you're not already taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid, you can take a folic acid supplement of 0.4 mg (400 mcg) a day to make sure you're getting enough of this important vitamin.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is needed for cell growth and the early growth and development of the nervous system. It is found in animal products such as milk and eggs. If you follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, or you've had gastric bypass surgery, your breast milk will most likely be deficient in vitamin B12. You can correct the deficiency and increase the levels of B12 in your breast milk by taking a supplement.  

Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), and Pantothenic Acid (B5)

All B vitamins help to convert food into energy that the body needs to grow, develop, and function. They are also necessary for the skin, hair, eyes, and the nervous system including the brain. These 4 B Vitamins: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, and Pantothenic Acid, can be found in breast milk at levels that depend on your diet. In countries such as the United States, it is rare for a healthy woman to have breast milk that lacks these vitamins. And, when a healthy mother is breastfeeding a healthy full-term infant, the levels of these vitamins in the breast milk fulfills the daily recommended levels.

However, if you're poorly nourished, or you follow a diet that does not include a variety of healthy foods, there is more of a chance that the levels of these B vitamins in your breast milk will be lower. In situations such as these, you can use vitamin supplements to raise the levels of these vitamins in your breast milk.

How to Tell if You Need Vitamin Supplements

Your doctor will use your health history, prenatal examinations, and routine blood work results to make the decision about what types of vitamins, if any, you need to take while you're breastfeeding. By following your doctor's advice and recommendations for follow-up care, you can feel confident that you're doing all you can to ensure that your breast milk is as healthy as it can be for your child. 

For your baby, be sure to follow the recommended well-visit schedule that your child's doctor gives you. Your child's doctor will monitor your baby's health and prescribe the vitamins that your child needs. 

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics.  Policy Statement. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Section on Breastfeeding. Pediatrics Vol. 129 No. 3 March 1, 2012, pp. e827 - e841: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. (2011). Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 

Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. (2006). The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. (2014). Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 

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