B vitamins in breast milk: relative importance of maternal status and intake, and effects on infant status and function

Adv Nutr. 2012 May 1;3(3):362-9. doi: 10.3945/an.111.001172.


Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 mo of life. However, maternal deficiency of some micronutrients, conveniently classified as Group I micronutrients during lactation, can result in low concentrations in breast milk and subsequent infant deficiency preventable by improving maternal status. This article uses thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, and choline as examples and reviews the evidence for risk of inadequate intakes by infants in the first 6 mo of life. Folate, a Group II micronutrient, is included for comparison. Information is presented on forms and concentrations in human milk, analytical methods, the basis of current recommended intakes for infants and lactating women, and effects of maternal supplementation. From reports of maternal and/or infant deficiency, concentrations in milk were noted as well as any consequences for infant function. These milk values were used to estimate the percent of recommended daily intake that infants fed by a deficient mother could obtain from her milk. Estimates were 60% for thiamin, 53% for riboflavin, 80% for vitamin B-6, 16% for vitamin B-12, and 56% for choline. Lack of data limits the accuracy and generalizability of these conclusions, but the overall picture that emerges is consistent across nutrients and points to an urgent need to improve the information available on breast milk quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Choline / administration & dosage
  • Choline / analysis
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Folic Acid / analysis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lactation / drug effects
  • Lactation / metabolism
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / drug effects
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Riboflavin / administration & dosage
  • Riboflavin / analysis
  • Vitamin B 12 / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin B 12 / analysis
  • Vitamin B 6 / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin B 6 / analysis
  • Vitamin B Complex / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin B Complex / analysis*
  • Vitamin B Deficiency / drug therapy
  • Vitamin B Deficiency / physiopathology


  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Vitamin B 6
  • Folic Acid
  • Choline
  • Vitamin B 12
  • Riboflavin