womens health

Exploring the Connection Between Vitamin B-12 in Breast Milk and Cognitive Development in Infants

Breastfeeding has long been touted as the best way to provide optimal nutrition for infants. It is well known that breast milk contains many essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antibodies that help protect babies from infections. However, recent research suggests that one nutrient in particular – vitamin B-12 – may play a crucial role in cognitive development.

Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in brain function and the production of red blood cells. It is found naturally in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. While breast milk does contain some vitamin B-12, its levels can vary widely depending on maternal diet.

A study published earlier this year by researchers at Cornell University found a strong correlation between higher levels of vitamin B-12 in breast milk and better cognitive outcomes for infants. The study followed 68 mother-infant pairs over six months and measured their vitamin B-12 intake through dietary surveys and breast milk samples.

The results showed that infants who received higher levels of vitamin B-12 through breast milk had significantly better cognitive scores at six months old compared to those with lower levels. The researchers also noted that maternal education level played a significant role – mothers with higher education tended to have higher levels of vitamin B-12 in their breast milk.

This study adds to a growing body of evidence linking maternal nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding to infant development outcomes. A review published last year by the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted the importance of adequate micronutrient intake during pregnancy and lactation for optimal fetal growth and neurodevelopment.

While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind these findings, it is clear that ensuring adequate intake of key nutrients like vitamin B-12 during pregnancy and breastfeeding could have significant benefits for infant health outcomes.

In addition to improving cognition, there is also evidence to suggest that vitamin B-12 may play a role in preventing developmental delays and disorders. A study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) had significantly lower levels of vitamin B-12 compared to typically developing children.

While this study does not prove causality, it does raise important questions about the potential role of maternal nutrition in reducing the risk of ASD. Further research is needed to explore these connections more fully.

Future Advances

As our understanding of the importance of maternal nutrition continues to grow, there are several exciting avenues for future research on this topic.

One area of interest is exploring how different types of diets during pregnancy and breastfeeding impact infant development outcomes. For example, a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that infants born to mothers who followed a Mediterranean-style diet during pregnancy had better cognitive scores at one year old compared to those whose mothers did not follow such a diet.

Another area for further investigation is identifying specific micronutrients or combinations thereof that may have particular benefits for infant development. While much attention has been given to folic acid and iron as key nutrients during pregnancy, there may be other lesser-known vitamins or minerals that could play an equally important role in promoting healthy fetal growth and neurodevelopment.

Finally, there is a need for more research into interventions aimed at improving maternal nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This could include education campaigns targeting pregnant women and new mothers about the importance of adequate nutrient intake, as well as targeted supplementation programs for women at higher risk for nutrient deficiencies.

In conclusion, while much remains unknown about the complex interplay between maternal nutrition and infant development outcomes, it is clear that ensuring adequate intake of key nutrients like vitamin B-12 during pregnancy and breastfeeding can have significant benefits. As we continue to learn more about this fascinating topic, we can work towards creating healthier futures for both mothers and their babies alike.


1. Cornell University. “Higher levels of vitamin B12 in mother’s milk associated with better cognitive development in baby.” ScienceDaily, 17 Feb. 2021.

2. World Health Organization (WHO). “Micronutrient deficiencies: Iron deficiency anaemia.” WHO website.

3. Schmidt RJ, Tancredi DJ, Krakowiak P, et al. Maternal intake of supplemental iron and risk of autism spectrum disorder [published correction appears in Am J Epidemiol. 2015 Aug 15;182(4):345]. Am J Epidemiol. 2014;180(9):890-900.

4. Chatzi L, Mendez M, Garcia Rios A, et al. Mediterranean diet adherence during pregnancy and fetal growth: INMA (Spain) and RHEA (Greece) mother-child cohort studies [published online ahead of print February 22, 2021]. JAMA Pediatr.

HTML Headings:

The Importance of Vitamin B-12 for Infant Development

New Research Findings

Linking Maternal Nutrition to Infant Development Outcomes

Potential Benefits Beyond Cognition

Vitamin B-12 Deficiency and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Future Advances on this Topic

*Note: this site does not provide medical opinions or diagnosis and should not be relied upon instead of receiving medical attention from a licensed medical professional.

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1WH staff