Vitamin B12 Deficiency and Pregnancy, Part I: Planning a Baby

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Have you been tested for vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy?  If not, you should.  If you have vitamin B12 deficiency or pernicious anemia, you can still have a normal pregnancy and give birth to a happy, healthy baby. Here are some crucial facts about vitamin B12 deficiency and pregnancy.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency and Pregnancy, Part I: Planning a Baby

Vitamin B12- What is it?

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is an essential B-vitamin that occurs naturally in animal-based foods: beef, chicken, halibut, crabmeat, clams, and Swiss cheese are among the richest food sources of vitamin B12.

Your body (and your baby) needs vitamin B12 for many vital functions:

  • Red blood cell production
  • Protection of the nerve cells
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Bone health
  • DNA synthesis
  • Homocysteine control
  • Energy production

What are the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency?

The following symptoms may indicate the beginning of vitamin B12 deficiency:

  • Fatigue in the morning after sleeping the whole night- this is because your brain is not getting enough oxygen
  • Memory loss from reduced cognitive skills
  • Brain fog
  • Painful tingling in the arms, hands, feet, legs, and tongue- this is a sign of neurological damage
  • Depression and anxiety– vitamin B12 deficiency compromises emotional wellness.
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • For more, read: Vitamin B12 Deficiency- 4 Causes, 1 Solution

Is vitamin B12 deficiency harmful for my baby?

Numerous studies have been conducted linking vitamin B12 deficiency with the following complications:

  • According to a National Institutes of Health study, women who have vitamin B12 deficiency before getting pregnant of after conception increase their baby’s chance of suffering from neural tube defects such as spina bifida by five times.
  • Increased homocysteine levels resulting from insufficient vitamin B12 are linked with miscarriages, preeclampsia, and high risk for heart disease.
  • Babies born to women with vitamin B12 deficiency are 15% more likely to suffer from insulin resistance, according to a University of California, Davis study.
  • Also read: Babies, B12, and Fertility- B12 Deficiency during Pregnancy

Am I at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency?

Most healthy people who eat foods rich in vitamin B12 don’t have to worry about becoming deficient.  Still, vitamin B12 malabsorption is the leading nutritional deficiency, and that percentage is climbing, so it’s worth understanding the risk factor involved.

People who are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • People with pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disorder involving the inability to make intrinsic factor, a necessary hormone for absorbing vitamin B12
  • Anybody who has had gastric bypass surgery
  • Anybody who has had the ileum removed through gastrointestinal surgery
  • Diabetics who take metformin
  • People taking protein pump inhibitors (PPIs) for GERD
  • People with illnesses or conditions that affect the digestive system, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, ulcerative colitis, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, autism, food allergies, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Alcoholics
  • Elderly individuals

Don’t I get enough B12 from prenatal vitamins?

Yes and no.  If your stomach is able to manufacture intrinsic factor and thus digest vitamin B12, then you probably get the bare minimum dosage from prenatal vitamin supplements. 

However, if you have pernicious anemia, or if you suffer from a gastrointestinal disorder, then it doesn’t matter how many vitamin B12 pills you swallow; all dietary sources of vitamin B12 are indigestible.  Without intrinsic factor, your body cannot access vitamin B12 unless it is inserted directly into the bloodstream.

Pregnant Moms and Low B-12 Levels: Let ‘em Eat Steak!

Get tested for B12 deficiency

Before you start planning a family, get tested for vitamin B12 deficiency.  Unfortunately, most physicians don’t automatically check for vitamin B12 deficiency, so you’ll need to request a B12 blood screening.

If you are diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency or pernicious anemia, then your doctor will most likely prescribe routine rounds of vitamin B12 shots, which must be inserted intramuscularly.  In order to keep from getting deficient again, you may need to continue receiving B12 shots for life.

Please tell us…

If you have pernicious anemia, did you find out only after years of suffering, or were you warned about it from family members?

Have you been putting off having a baby because of low energy from vitamin B12 deficiency?

As always, we welcome your comments!

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Read more about vitamin B12 deficiency:

Natalie Portman Chooses B12 over Veganism

B12 Deficiency: Don’t Ignore the Symptoms


Low Levels of Vitamin B12 During Pregnancy May Increase the Risk of Neural Tube Defects

Low maternal vitamin B-12 status is associated with offspring insulin resistance regardless of antenatal micronutrient supplementation in rural Nepal- PubMed, NCBI

Micronutrient Information Center

Vitamin B12 and Pregnancy