Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is a water-soluble vitamin found primarily in fruits and vegetables. It is a standard nutrient in human milk and is a vital antioxidant. Vitamin C protects and keeps the cells in the body healthy, promotes wound healing, and aids iron absorption.
Our bodies cannot make this vitamin. Hence, it needs to be supplemented through the diet. The recommended daily intake of vitamin C in lactating women is 120mg. A mother who is healthy and maintains a good diet would have sufficient amounts of vitamin C in her breast milk (1)
In this post, we tell you all about vitamin C and breastfeeding, including its effects on breastmilk and how you can maintain your vitamin C level while breastfeeding.
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 immunity system a boost and helps you and your baby fight off infections (4).
- Mastitis is a condition often found in breastfeeding mothers. It is a condition where the milk duct is blocked. 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 (7).
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 (8).
Signs Of Vitamin C Deficiency
The following are the most common signs and symptoms of vitamin C deficiency (9).
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 a 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 (10). Thus, vitamin C supplements are safe to take during breastfeeding. However, it is best to consult your doctor for the recommended 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 (8)
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for both the mother and the baby. Dietary intake of vitamin C is the best option; however, you may also opt for supplements as long as you take them within the prescribed doses. If you are diagnosed with vitamin C deficiency, talk to your doctor regarding the diet or the supplements that need to be taken.
2. Ruth A. Lawrence and Robert M. Lawrence; Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession; Elsevier
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. Vitamin C; National Institutes of Health
8. Nutrition Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers; The Regents of The University of California
9. Vitamin C; Harvard TH Chan
10. Jason B. Sauberanl; High-Dose Vitamins; Breastfeeding Medicine (2019).