Infants need vitamin B12 for supporting brain development and producing healthy red blood cells. Infants who do not get adequate vitamin B12 can become deficient. If left untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency in infants can lead to permanent brain damage. Vitamin B12 is found in foods from animals, primarily meat, fish, milk and milk products, and eggs; therefore infants of mothers who consume a vegetarian or vegan diet may be at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency.
Do infants get enough B12 from breast milk?
Usually. Vitamin B12 is transferred through the placenta to the fetus during pregnancy and through breast milk after birth. Infants who drink breast milk from a mother who consumes adequate amounts of vitamin B12 or infants who drink infant formula, will receive enough vitamin B12. However, if a breastfeeding mother is deficient in vitamin B12, her infant may also become deficient.
Vitamin B12 is most commonly found in foods from animals; therefore, infants who only receive breast milk from mothers who consume no animal products are at greater risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency shortly after birth. Breastfeeding mothers on a strict vegetarian or vegan diet should consult their healthcare provider about taking a supplement that contains the appropriate amount of vitamin B12. Mothers can learn more about why vitamin B12 is important, how much is needed, and what foods are high in vitamin B12.
Breastfeeding mothers who have had a malabsorptive bariatric procedure (such as gastric bypass surgery), who have pernicious anemia (low number of red blood cells caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12), or who have certain gastrointestinal disorders, may not be able to absorb various vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, folic acid (vitamin B9), iron, and calcium. Healthcare providers should monitor these mothers for nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin B12 deficiency.