The Vitamins in Breast Milk and Your Baby's Needs

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Vitamins are essential for your baby's growth and development. If you're healthy and eat a well-balanced diet and take a prenatal vitamin, your breast milk contains most, if not all the vitamins that your healthy full-term baby needs. Experts still recommend a few supplements, but breast milk is impressively nutritious all on its own,

Vitamins in Breast Milk

Breast milk provides complete nutrition for your baby. It contains fats, sugars, protein, minerals, and these essential vitamins.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is necessary for healthy vision. Your breast milk contains plenty of vitamin A for your child. Colostrum, the breast milk that your body produces during the first few days of nursing, has twice as much vitamin A as transitional or mature breast milk. These higher levels of vitamin A, especially beta-carotene, are what give colostrum its 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 depending on how much vitamin D the breastfeeding parent 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 many people take against sun exposure, they may 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 parents are deficient in vitamin D, doctors recommend 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 do not need any additional vitamin K supplementation. However, if there's concern about your own vitamin K levels, your doctor will prescribe 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.

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 a daily vitamin C supplement to your diet.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is required for healthy brain development. Your diet influences the amount of vitamin B6 in your breast milk. 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 breast milk and is considered safe.

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.

Other B Vitamins

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. Thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and pantothenic acid (B5) 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 person to have breast milk that is lacking in these vitamins. And, when a healthy parent is breastfeeding a healthy full-term infant, the levels of these vitamins in the breast milk fulfill 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.

Possible Nutrient Deficiencies

If you have a healthy diet, your breast milk should contain most of the vitamins that your baby needs. However, even if you follow a healthy breastfeeding diet, if you are exclusively breastfeeding, there are a few vitamins and mineral supplements that your child may need. For example, as noted above, a vitamin D supplement is usually started right away.

Iron supplements are typically added by four to six months of age, and depending on your water supply, the doctor may recommend a fluoride supplement at six months.

Preemies, babies born with health concerns, and babies of moms who follow a vegan diet or have had weight loss surgery may need additional supplements. Follow the recommended well-visit schedule that your child's doctor gives you. The doctor will monitor your baby's health and prescribe the vitamins that your child needs.

Do You Need Supplements?

Your doctor will use your health history, prenatal examinations, and routine blood work results to decide which vitamins if any, you need to take while you're breastfeeding. Besides choosing healthy foods to eat, you can continue to take your prenatal vitamin and any other supplements that your doctor recommends. 

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 contains all the necessary vitamins, and it's as healthy as it can be for your child.

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11 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Ballard O, Morrow AL. Human milk composition: nutrients and bioactive factors. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2013;60(1):49-74. doi:10.1016/j.pcl.2012.10.002

  • Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding A Guide for the Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences.

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

  • Valentine CJ, Wagner CL. Nutritional management of the breastfeeding dyad. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2013;60(1):261-274. doi:10.1016/j.pcl.2012.10.008