Are you breastfeeding your new arrival or planning on breastfeeding after delivery? You might be wondering whether certain vitamins and supplements are good or harmful for your baby.
As vitamin C is one of the most commonly ingested vitamins, we get asked often if it’s safe to take while breastfeeding and how much is too much.
Our medical experts will discuss the benefits of vitamin C and how much is safe to ingest while breastfeeding.
- Vitamin C is important for both mom and baby, helping with wound healing, promoting healthy skin, and protecting against infections.
- Breastfeeding moms should consume 120 milligrams of vitamin C daily, which can be obtained through a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Taking excessive vitamin C supplements can cause side effects, but the body regulates the amount passed into breast milk, so it doesn’t affect the baby after delivery.
- Vitamin C levels in expressed milk decrease over time, so use refrigerated milk within 24 hours and frozen milk within one month for maximum benefits.
Vitamin C for You and Baby
When I was pregnant, one of my cravings was for satsumas, a tangerine-type citrus fruit. I would devour them by the pound. The local store got used to my husband going there every few days and buying them by the box. I wouldn’t have been surprised if my baby was born orange.
As a good source of vitamin C, this was a supplement I didn’t need to worry about, and the cravings soon passed. But I was curious how it would have affected my baby while breastfeeding.
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is found naturally in many food sources. It is what we call an antioxidant. It helps protect the body from free radicals, such as ultraviolet rays from the sun and environmental pollutants (1).
This vitamin also has other protective functions in our body, including the following (2):
- Wound healing: Vitamin C can improve the healing of wounds and reduce inflammation. It helps stop excessive scarring. This is especially useful for women who are recovering from cesarean deliveries.
- Promotes healthy skin: Vitamin C is involved in the prevention of wrinkles and sagging skin, dryness and roughness, and dark spots or aging from sun exposure.
- Treats and protects against infection: Vitamin C can help protect our bodies against infection from bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. This includes illnesses such as pneumonia, the common cold, malaria, and amoebic dysentery.
- Helps the body absorb iron: Our body needs iron for red blood cell production. Vitamin C helps us absorb it from the foods we eat.
- Other diseases: The potentially beneficial effects of vitamin C on cancer and cardiovascular diseases have been discussed for years. Research is still underway to find out what role this vitamin plays.
The vitamin C in breast milk can help pass these benefits on to your baby.
How the Body Gets Vitamin C
Our bodies cannot make this vitamin, so we rely on obtaining it from food sources or supplements.
Fruits and green vegetables are good sources of vitamin C. Fruits high in this vitamin include oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, kiwi, and tomatoes. For vegetables, eat things like broccoli, green and red peppers, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and green peas.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for babies up to six months old is 40 milligrams of vitamin C per day. This rises to 50 milligrams for babies up to 12 months old. It drops to 15 milligrams for children from 1 to 3 years old.
For pregnant women, the RDA is 85 milligrams, and for a breastfeeding mom, it’s 120 milligrams. If you are a young mom aged 18 years old or less, the RDA is 80 milligrams when pregnant and 115 milligrams when breastfeeding (3).
Vitamin C in Breast Milk
Most moms who follow a balanced diet will have the right amount of vitamin C in their breast milk for their baby. The foods breastfeeding mothers should be eating include plenty of fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, dairy, and protein.
It’s also thought that if you do take vitamin C supplements above the RDA, your body will regulate how much vitamin C passes into your breast milk (5).
However, it will make a difference if you’re deficient in vitamin C due to poor nourishment. Taking supplements in these circumstances can double or triple the amount in breast milk (6).
Impact of Smoking on Vitamin C Levels
It has also been shown that babies of moms who smoke have lower levels of this antioxidant vitamin (8).
The recommendation for people who smoke is to add 35 milligrams of vitamin C per day.
Too Much Vitamin C When Breastfeeding?
The upper limit for vitamin C is 2,000 milligrams per day. With most of your supply coming from your diet, it’s unlikely you will have too much. However, if you decided to take supplements in high doses, then you could.
Too much vitamin C can cause you to have diarrhea, vomiting, heartburn, stomach cramps, and headaches (9).
When it comes to the effects on your baby, it is thought that too much vitamin C during pregnancy can cause scurvy in a newborn (10). This is because the liver processes it too quickly, eliminating it from the body. Likewise, not enough can also adversely affect your unborn baby’s health (11).
But our body regulates how much vitamin C is passed to the baby in milk when breastfeeding, so this is not an issue after delivery.
If you plan to take higher than recommended doses of vitamin C for any reason, discuss it with your health professional first.
Does Vitamin C Prevent Mastitis?
Antioxidants, including vitamin C, are given to cows that have low levels and are lactating, to treat and prevent mastitis (13).
Some moms have anecdotally reported taking vitamin C for mastitis, but there is no conclusive evidence that it works.
Prevention of Allergic Diseases
Are you a mom who has eczema or asthma and are concerned you might pass this on to your baby? One study has shown that a diet rich in vitamin C can help reduce the risk of passing on these allergic diseases (15).
This same study showed that moms who are sensitive to certain foods and avoid them are more likely to have babies with low vitamin C levels.
Vitamin C Levels in Expressed Milk
Many moms pump their milk and store it in a refrigerator or freezer. It’s handy to have when you aren’t physically available to breastfeed your little one or when dad wants to feed the baby. But what happens to the levels of vitamin C in expressed milk?
For this reason, to give your baby the benefits of vitamin C in stored breast milk, use it within one day from the fridge and one month from the freezer.