Many obstetricians advise that mothers eat foods high in vitamin C while breastfeeding. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin mostly found in fruits and vegetables. It is a crucial antioxidant and a typical ingredient in human milk. It also protects and maintains the health of the body’s cells, assists in wound healing, and improves iron absorption.
Since our bodies cannot produce this vitamin, it should be supplemented through our diet. The recommended daily intake of vitamin C in lactating women is 120mg. A mother who is healthy and eats a balanced diet would have sufficient amounts of vitamin C in her breast milk (1)
Read this post to learn more about vitamin C and breastfeeding, including the effects of vitamin C on breastmilk and how you can maintain the vitamin C level in your breastmilk.
Benefits Of Vitamin C During Breastfeeding
Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient that helps in the proper functioning of the body. Here are some possible benefits of taking vitamin C during breastfeeding.
- Vitamin C is a cofactor for many enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of collagen, carnitine, and neurotransmitters. Hence, it aids in the growth of bones and teeth (2).
- It stimulates collagen production, the main protein found in the blood vessels, cartilage, tendons, ligaments. etc. (3).
- Ascorbic acid helps the body absorb iron from the gastrointestinal tract.
- As it has antioxidant properties, it reduces the number of free radicals in the body, thus reducing cancer risk.
- Vitamin C also helps in faster wound healing and quicker restoration of the tissues.
- It gives your immune system a boost and helps you and your baby fight off infections (4).
- Mastitis is a condition also known as inflammation of the breast which affects 3-20% of breastfeeding mothers, most commonly during the first 6 weeks postpartum (although it can occur at any time during lactation). Studies have found that the incidence of mastitis was found to be higher in mothers who were deficient in vitamin C (5). Taking vitamin C supplements may help prevent mastitis.
- Studies have proven that a maternal diet rich in natural sources of vitamin C during breastfeeding could reduce the risk of atopic diseases such as eczema, asthma, and allergies in infants (6).
Dosage And Dietary Sources Of Vitamin C
If you are a nursing mother, you may need to check your vitamin C levels and make sure they are at the recommended levels. For mothers 18 years or younger, the recommended amount is 115mg/day, and for mothers above 18 years, it is 120mg/day (2).
Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C. Some of the foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, cantaloupe, potato, bell pepper,tomato, kiwi, cauliflower,cabbage, strawberry, and Brussels sprouts (7).
Signs Of Vitamin C Deficiency
The following are the most common signs and symptoms of vitamin C deficiency (8).
This is characterized by the loss of collagen and weakening of connective tissues and could lead to
- Spots on the skin due to bleeding and bruising of blood vessels.
- Bleeding and swelling of the gums and potential loss of teeth.
- Hair loss.
- Delayed wound healing
- Fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell
Can You Take Vitamin Supplements While Breastfeeding?
The average milk vitamin C concentration is 50-90 mg/L in a well-nourished mother consuming adequate vitamin C in their diet. However, mothers who smoke have lower milk vitamin C levels (1). If you are breastfeeding and diagnosed with low vitamin C levels, consult your doctor for some supplements.
According to a study of mothers who were administered high doses of vitamin C between 250-1,000mg/L daily, the average milk concentration was 100-120mg/L after two days of supplementation. Even when one mother took doses as high as 4,000mg/L vitamin C per day, the breast milk concentration of vitamin C was well below the levels known to cause harm (9). Therefore it is best to consult your doctor for the recommended supplemental dosage.
Side Effects Of Excessive Vitamin C
Taking higher concentrations of vitamin C supplements than those recommended by your doctor may have the below side effects.
- Tissue damage
- Kidney stones
- Heartburn (7)
Vitamin C while breastfeeding is recommended because it nourishes you and your baby. The vitamin can help provide stronger bones and teeth, faster wound healing, and prevent mastitis. A balanced diet will give you adequate vitamin C required for your body. However, if you notice swelling and bleeding of gums, hair loss, or delay in wound healing, it may be possible that you have a vitamin C deficiency. Seek your doctor’s advice on this matter. They may recommend specific diets or supplements to replenish your needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do babies get vitamin C through breast milk?
Yes. Vitamin C is passed to babies through their mother’s breastmilk. It aids in the adequate growth and development of their bones and muscles.
2. Does smoking reduce the amount of vitamin C in breast milk?
Yes. Studies have shown that smoking may affect the levels of vitamin C and antioxidants in breastmilk (10).
- Consuming a vitamin-C rich diet is beneficial when breastfeeding.
- It helps you and your baby fight illnesses by boosting your immune system.
- Vitamin C deficiency can lead to fatigue, scurvy, and anemia.
2. Vitamin C; National Institutes of Health
3. Shailja Chambial et al.;Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: An Overview; Indian Journal of Chemical Biology (2013).
4. S Maggini, S Wenzlaff, and D Hornig; Essential Role of Vitamin C and Zinc in Child Immunity and Health; The Journal of International Medical Research (2010).
5. A. A. Fulton; Value Of Supplements Of Vitamin C In Preventing Lactational Mastitis; The British Medical Journal (1945).
6. U Hoppu et al.; Vitamin C in breast milk may reduce the risk of atopy in the infant; European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2004).
7. Nutrition Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers; The Regents of The University of California
8. Vitamin C; Harvard TH Chan
9. Jason B. Sauberanl; High-Dose Vitamins; Breastfeeding Medicine (2019).
10. Rosa M. Ortega et al.; The Influence of Smoking on Vitamin C Status During the Third Trimester of Pregnancy and on Vitamin C Levels in Maternal Milk; ResearchGate.
11. Healthy eating for breastfeeding; UK Government