Why does Vitamin B12 Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

AndieM.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC, RYT-200

Read time: 3 minutes

What to know about meeting your and your child’s vitamin B12 needs

  • Learn why vitamin B12 is important for health

  • How much vitamin B12 is needed by age

  • What foods are good sources of vitamin B12

What does vitamin B12 do?

Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. It also helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells, as well as plays a role in brain development during infancy.1 Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia, which can make people feel tired and weak.1

During pregnancy, vitamin B12 may play a role in helping prevent spina bifida and other spinal and central nervous system birth defects.2,3

How much vitamin B12 is needed?

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) lists vitamin B12 in micrograms (mcg).

*Note that the numbers for infants are Adequate Intakes (AIs), since there is not enough data to establish an RDA. The AIs provide guidance to help get a level of B12 that is nutritionally adequate.1

  • Infants* 0-6 months: 0.4 mcg

  • Infants* 7-12 months: 0.5 mcg

  • Children 1-3 years: 0.9 mcg

  • Children 4-8 years: 1.2 mcg

  • Children 9-13 years: 1.8 mcg

  • 14 years through adulthood: 2.4 mcg

  • Pregnancy: 2.6 mcg

  • Lactation: 2.8 mcg

Food sources of vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products.1

While this nutrient is generally not present in plant foods, many plant-based products are commonly fortified with B12, such as: breakfast cereals, plant-based milks, nutrition bars, meat substitutes, and Nutritional Yeast.5

Vitamin B12 in your and your child’s diet

Vitamin B12: Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and formula feeding

Formula produced in the United States must contain a certain amount of B12.7 Breastmilk also contains B12, but the amount is highly linked with the mother’s dietary intake.1 Making sure to eat plenty of B12-rich foods will help you and your baby get enough.

Supplemental vitamin B12 for vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who avoid dairy and eggs) is often recommended during both pregnancy and lactation to ensure that enough vitamin B12 is transferred to the fetus and infant.6 Be sure to chat with your health care provider to see if a B12 supplement is needed.

Pregnant and lactating women who follow strict vegetarian or vegan diets should also consult with their health care provider regarding vitamin B12 supplements for themselves, their babies, and their children.

Vitamin B12: Baby, toddler, and parent diet

Once your little one is ready to eat solids, be sure to include sources of B12. Some options include pureed poultry or mashed fish, yogurt, or scrambled eggs. Aim for a variety of animal products throughout the week. As your little one gets older, continue to increase texture and variety of the B12-rich foods you offer.

If you and your little one are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, be sure to include foods that are fortified with B12. Look at the Nutrition Facts Panel to see if the food has B12 added. Additionally, chat with your health care provider to determine if a supplement is needed for you or your child.

Tips for getting enough vitamin B12

Include vitamin B12-rich food sources in your and your child’s diet regularly

Include foods that are naturally high in vitamin B12 such as clams, sockeye salmon, beef, and yogurt.

For vegan and vegetarian diets, or diets that are generally low in animal products, include foods fortified with vitamin B12 such as breakfast cereals fortified with 100% of vitamin B12.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, talk to your health care practitioner about a vitamin B12 supplement.

Here’s a cheat sheet of foods with amounts of vitamin B12 by serving:

  • Clams, 3 oz: 17 mcg

  • Nutritional Yeast, fortified, ¼ cup: 8.3 to 24 mcg

  • Salmon, Atlantic, 3 oz: 2.6 mcg

  • Beef, ground, 85% lean, 3 oz: 2.4 mcg

  • Milk*, 2%, 1 cup: 1.3 mcg

  • Yogurt, plain, 6 oz: 1 mcg

  • Breakfast cereal, fortified with 25% DV for B12, 1 serving: 0.6 mcg

  • Cheddar cheese, 1.5 oz: 0.5 mcg

  • Egg, 1 whole: 0.5 mcg

  • Turkey breast, 3 oz: 0.3 mcg

  • Tempeh, ½ cup: 0.1 mcg1

*Children under 1 year should not drink cow’s milk. Read more here: How Do I Introduce Milk to my Toddler

Recipe and meal ideas to help increase vitamin B12

Wondering about how to include B12 in your baby and toddler’s diet? Here are some recipe ideas to help. Feel free to mash or blend up any of the below recipes should your little one need a softer or smoother consistency!

Crispy Herbed Salmon Bites with Steamed Broccoli & Cauliflower

Ginger Carrot and Sweet Potato Mash with Lean Beef

Fruit and Yogurt Pops

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

Medications and vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 found in food needs the acidic environment of the stomach to separate it from the protein that it is bound to.1 However the synthetic B12 found in supplements does not need to be separated.1

If you have a low stomach acid level (for example if you are taking medication) then you may have low blood levels of B12, and a supplement taken by mouth may help provide what you need.1,4

Follow up with your health care provider if you are a long-time user of certain medications to treat gastroesophageal reflux, peptic ulcer disease, or are on metformin.1 They will let you know if a B12 supplement would be beneficial for you.

As always, speak with your health care provider if you have questions about your B12 intake or before starting to take any supplements.

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Meal Plan: Key Nutrients of Pregnancy

Meal Plan: Getting the Right Nutrition while Breastfeeding

Meal Plan for 18 to 24 Month Old Toddlers