The B vitamins are eight water-soluble1 vitamins that are found in foods like potatoes, bananas, lentils, tempeh, liver, tuna and brewer’s yeast. They help the body convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which is used to produce energy. They also help the body use fats and protein. B complex vitamins are needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes, liver and healthy functioning of the nervous system.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 helps the body make several chemicals that carry signals from one nerve cell to another (neurotransmitters). It is needed for normal brain development and function. It helps make the hormones that influence our mood (serotonin and norepinephrine) and our sleep and wake cycles (melatonin) amongst many other things.
B6 and breastfeeding
A breastfeeding mother’s diet will normally provide plenty of B6 which will also meet her baby’s needs for this vitamin via her breastmilk. Poultry, fish, eggs, cereals and certain vegetables are good sources of this vitamin and there is a comprehensive list of foods here.
What is the recommended amount for a breastfeeding mother?
Thomas Hale (Medications & Mothers’ Milk 2014) says the normal dose of B6 for a woman is 1.6mg and that “a little more is needed in pregnancy and when breastfeeding”. Others state the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) while breastfeeding as 1.9mg/day2 or 2.1mg/day3. Hale says that most prenatal vitamin supplements contain from 12-25 mg/day and that it is advisable to have less than 100 mg/day while breastfeeding so that the levels in breastmilk are not too high for your baby.
What if I am deficient in B6?
If a mother is deficient in B6; taking a supplement of up to 40mg/day (Hale 2014) will help mother and baby’s B6 levels. In Breastfeeding and Medication Wendy Jones recommends that B6 be taken as part of a multivitamin supplement rather than in large amounts on its own.
Can B6 supplements help post natal depression or pre-menstrual syndrome?
Wendy Jones says that while deficiency of B6 is rare, supplements of B6 are sometimes suggested for post natal depression and pre-menstrual tension, however there is no evidence that this is helpful and excessive doses can be harmful.
Deficiency is rare but supplements have been recommended to alleviate post natal depression, pre-menstrual tension but there is no evidence of effectiveness of this treatment over placebo (West 1987) and excessive doses have been reported to cause sensory neuropathy.
B6 and vasospasm4
Canadian paediatrician Jack Newman suggests trying vitamin B6 as one of several treatments for Raynaud’s phenomenon (blanching of the nipple)
We usually recommend 200 mg a day as a single dose for four days and 25 to 50 mg a day as a single dose from then on. If the vasospasm returns after lowering the dose, we recommend resuming the higher dose and every so often trying to lower it or stop it altogether. Although some suggest that vitamin B6 can reduce milk supply, I have not seen this even when mothers took 200 mg a day for many weeks. In our clinic we recommend vitamin B6 multi complex, although this combination of B vitamins has not been shown to be any better than the vitamin B6 alone.
Can B6 dry up breastmilk?
There are many mentions online about taking B6 to dry up breastmilk. Very high maternal supplements of B6 may suppress prolactin levels and cause a fall in breastmilk production though not all studies have found this effect and there seems to be very little evidence. It may be worth bearing this in mind if you do notice a drop in your supply and are taking a B6 supplement. If you are looking for ideas to help with drying up breastmilk see How to Stop Breastfeeding and, as very high supplements of B6 are harmful, discuss with your GP before taking high doses of this vitamin. Thomas Hale PhD quotes several adult concerns to watch out for when taking B6 (see below).
Adult concerns: Reduced milk production, sensory neuropathy, gastrointestinal distress, sedation. Seizures at high doses ( >360 mg/day).
Brewer’s Yeast for milk supply?
Brewer’s yeast is a good source of B vitamins including B6 (note: brewer’s yeast does not include B12). Some breastfeeding websites, e.g. Jack Newman’s website, mention taking brewer’s yeast to increase a breastfeeding mother’s milk supply.
Nursing Mother’s Herbal is a good reference guide and has this to say about Brewer’s yeast:
[Cheryl Renfree] recommends adding brewer’s yeast for B vitamins, iron and protein. Many mother’s have found brewer’s yeast to be helpful not only for building their milk supply but also for combating fatigue, depression and irritability.
but the author also cautions that brewer’s yeast can sometimes make a baby colicky.
Avoiding certain foods is thought to prevent or help treat colic. A baby can become colicky after his mother eats a certain food, but this trigger food may vary from mother to mother. For some it may be green beans or tomatoes. For others brewer’s yeast, vitamins with iron or fluoride, or artificial sweetners. Mothers who smoke or drink large amounts of caffeine tend to have colicky babies. If you can eliminate trigger foods and substances from your diet you should see positive results within a day or so, although the full effect may not be apparent for a week or two.