Vitamin D Supplements and Breastfeeding

nutrition diet healthThe current recommendation is for adults to consume 2000 IU of vitamin D per day when adequate sunlight exposure is not available. The amount of vitamin D obtainable from direct sunlight may be in the tens of thousands of IU per day, and is far higher than can be obtained from diet. Diet is a poor source of vitamin D as the foods that contain vitamin D in high concentrations (such as fish oils, liver and egg yolks) are not often consumed by most humans. Therefore, the current recommendation to consume vitamin D as supplements during periods of prolonged sun absence, for example during the winter months. However, while this is a reasonable strategy for adults, and even adolescents and children, young infants are reliant on their milk for their vitamin D and for this reasons the diet of the mother is an important consideration. Studies have therefore investigated the effects of supplements to breastfeeding mothers on the vitamin D content of breast milk.

vitamin d

The current recommendation is to consume 2000 IU of vitamin D per day in the absence of strong sunlight exposure. Evidence suggests that this level of supplementation is high enough to increase the vitamin D content of breast milk in breastfeeding mothers. However, 1000 IU per day does not raise vitamin D levels of breastmilk any higher than consuming no vitamin D. Good food sources of vitamin D include fish oils, liver and egg yolk. As these foods are not often consumed, supplements are a more reliable method of obtaining adequate vitamin D. It is also questionable as to whether food would be able to regularly supply 2000 IU of vitamin D per day.

For example, in one study, pregnant women received either a placebo, 1000 IU of vitamin D or 2000 IU of vitamin D. The women then gave samples of breast milk at 2 week postpartum and ar 2 month postpartum. The results of the study showed that at 2 weeks the vitamin D activity of the breast milk of those women receiving 2000 IU of vitamin D per day was significantly higher than those women receiving the 1000 IU dose of vitamin D and the placebo (74 IU/L for the 2000 IU group; 51 IU/L for the 1000 IU group and 52 IU/L in the placebo group). At 2 months the vitamin D activity in the breast milk of the 2000 IU group was 58 IU/L, whereas it was only 43 and 45 in the 1000 IU group and placebo group, respectively. Therefore supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding are an effective way to increase the vitamin D supplied to a breastfeeding infant. The non-significant difference between the placebo and the 1000 IU group supports the recommendation for consuming 2000 IU per day of vitamin D as a supplement.

Eat Well, Stay Healthy, Protect Yourself


Wall, C. R., Stewart, A. W., Camargo, C. A., Scragg, R., Mitchell, E. A., Ekeroma, A., Crane, J., Milne, T., Rowden, J., Horst, R. and Grant, C. C. 2016. Vitamin D activity of breast milk in women randomly assigned to vitamin D3 supplementation during pregnancy. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 103(2): 382-388

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
This entry was posted in Breastfeeding, Vitamin D. Bookmark the permalink.