It has long been established that pregnant women require increased levels of Vitamin B12 in their diets because much of the nutrient stored in their bodies is redirected to the fetus. In fact several studies have documented that once the B12 is transferred to the fetus; the mother can become deficient with all that this entails, like pernicious anemia and serious neurological disorders. In that this has been firmly established, most medical professionals advising pregnant women recommend that they take on supplementary amounts of the nutrient in order to offset any possibility of a deficiency developing. Often, this is in the form of a B12 shot.
After the child is born, he or she has virtually no natural stores of Vitamin B12 in their bodies and receive what they need from breast milk and/or any formula being used by the mother. Studies have shown that breast milk contains considerably higher levels of Vitamin B12 in the early weeks of nursing, allowing the infant to slowly build up its own reserves. The infant’s intake remains high for the first six months, but after this it begins to decrease, meaning that the infant is retaining as much of the nutrient as it can for the time being.
The real problem comes about during the weaning period. If weaned before six months – which is not uncommon – or if the infant is not given a replacement source of B12 in its new diet, serious neurological damage can occur that can leave the infant permanently retarded or even lead to death. A famous case study regarded the “Black Hebrews”, an American religious group that emigrated to Israel. This group maintained a strict vegan diet (no natural sources of Vitamin B12) and did not use fortified foods; further, they weaned their infants at three months. The result was massive vitamin B12 deficiencies among their infants, resulting in the death of some eight infants and severe deficiency in some twenty-five others.
Further studies have conclusively shown that vitamin B12 supplementation is very import for young infants, as well as mothers. Mothers very often opt to take B vitamin shots.The B12 transferred to the infant through breast milk does not come from the mother’s own personal reserves of the nutrient (unlike the B12 transferred to the fetus before birth), but instead depends on the mother’s regular intake of B12. Therefore failing to take supplementary B12 – regardless of ones own reserves – can still lead to a deficiency in a nursing infant.