Can You Take Emergen-C While Breastfeeding? Dosage Safety

Can You Take Emergen-C While Breastfeeding? Dosage Safety

During cold and flu season, busy breastfeeding moms may be asking, can you take Emergen C while breastfeeding? Anything that can potentially give a tired mom a leg up sounds like a pretty good idea, right?

A review of the available information and scientific literature online indicates that breastfeeding mamas can generally take vitamin C supplements like Emergen-C as directed.

As long as they are not overdoing their vitamin and mineral consumption with additional supplements, there do not seem to be any major health concerns for a mom or her breastfed infant.

Please note that while the information I share here is from health agencies, peer-reviewed scientific journals, and other reputable sources, I am not a medical professional. Any questions regarding your health concerns should be directed to your healthcare provider.

Take Home Points: Can You Take Emergen C While Breastfeeding?

1. Breastfeeding moms can generally take the nutritional supplement Emergen-C without cause for concern.

That is, as long as they are not taking additional supplements that put them over the ULs (tolerable upper limits established by the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes Guide) for consumed vitamins and minerals. 

2. A breastfeeding mother who is taking supplements (Emergen C, prenatal vitamin, or postnatal vitamin, etc) should be familiar with dosage levels and combined dosage levels of all vitamin and mineral supplements.

See the table for ULs (upper tolerable limits) for the vitamins and minerals found in Emergen-C and a common postnatal supplement. 

3. Child Health and Human Development reviews studies showing that higher levels of vitamin C intake by lactating mothers leads to higher vitamin C levels in breastmilk. These higher levels (under 2000mg) of vitamin C in breast milk do not seem to pose any health risks for infants.

4. A meta-analysis in BMC Public Health concludes that regular high vitamin C intake (around 1000 mg) can lessen the severity of cold symptoms.

While vitamin C is the primary vitamin in Emergen C, there does not appear to be any scientific research on the effects of Emergen C itself as a product. Emergen C is also not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). 

5. With no scientific evidence specifically on the benefits of Emergen-C products, breastfeeding moms may choose to focus instead on getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a healthy diet to support their health and immune systems.  

That being said, breastfeeding moms may find it worth testing out Emergen C for themselves. Especially during cold and flu season.

At the end of the day, always talk with your trusted health professionals to discuss the specifics of what is right for you when it comes to taking supplements and breastfeeding.

What is Emergen-C Good For?

Emergen-C immune support is a dietary supplement that contains 1000 mg of vitamin C along with 15 other vitamins and minerals (note the Emergen C chewable tablet has a different nutrition profile than the powder packet). 

The flavored Emergen-C powder packets are marketed as a daily supplement to support immune health and give your body antioxidants, b vitamins, and electrolytes. 

If taking an Emergen C packet daily, you can expect to spend around $13/month. While not a huge expense, it’s worth weighing the potential benefits against the time and cost of taking Emergen C. Unless you are purely taking Emergen C for the taste of all those fun fizzy flavors, you probably want to know a little more about the product and its potential benefits or risks.

How Much Vitamin C do Lactating Mothers Need?

Vitamin C is not stored in the body or made by the body, so it must be consumed through foods or supplements.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development states that the daily value of vitamin C for breastfeeding mothers is 120 mg. Most lactating women can get enough vitamin C from prenatal or postnatal vitamins along with a healthy diet. Breastfeeding moms are generally advised to take prenatal vitamins to keep themselves healthy as well as ensure that their bodies are making quality breastmilk. 

While people do not need to worry so much about taking too much vitamin C through foods, they do need to be mindful of vitamin C dosages in supplements. For example, the Emergen C packaging health claims state that there is the equivalent of 10 oranges worth of vitamin C in one daily dose of Emergen-C. It would be really hard to eat 10 oranges all at once, but pretty easy to down a packet of Emergen C.

The USDA database shows that 1 raw orange has 59.1 mg of vitamin C ascorbic acid, which is about half the recommended amount of vitamin C needed per day for breastfeeding moms. So it’s not too hard for moms to get their daily dose of vitamin C with a juicy orange and a prenatal vitamin. You can search the USDA nutrient database values (United States Department of Agriculture) for other foods and their vitamin and mineral content.

While the body does flush out excess vitamin C, too much all at once can lead to adverse effects like diarrhea, nausea, and headache. Losing a lot of fluids through diarrhea or fighting a splitting headache is the last thing a breastfeeding mom needs!

1. How Much Vitamin C Can Breastfeeding Moms Safely Take?

There is not much difference between how much vitamin C a non-lactating adult versus a breastfeeding mother can safely take. 

As far as research goes, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development states that up to 1000 mg of vitamin C daily increases the vitamin C in milk levels, but is not a safety risk for nursing infants.

Likewise, breastfeeding expert and MD, Dr Anne Eglash states that it is safe to take 1000 mg/day of vitamin C while breastfeeding. She even comments that breastfeeding women can take up to 2 grams (2000 mg) of vitamin C.

As a side note, Dr Eglash also has a podcast, Breastfeeding Medicine Podcast, all about breastfeeding-related topics. It is worth checking out if you find yourself with questions about breastfeeding.

2000 mg/day of vitamin C is the UL (tolerable upper limit established by the Food and Nutrition Board) for lactating women. This is the same UL as for non-lactating adults.

To verify the above findings, I asked our trusty local pharmacist if I could take daily Emergen C while breastfeeding. Without hesitation, he confirmed I could. 

2. ULs (Tolerable Upper Limits) for Vitamin C and Other Vitamins and Minerals

While we all need our essential vitamins and minerals, too much of a good thing can negatively impact our health. 

Breastfeeding women will want to read the nutrition label and dosage levels of their pre or postnatal vitamins as well as any other supplements they are planning to take. They can then add up all the dosages and check them against the Food and Nutrition Board’s ULs (tolerable upper limits) for vitamins and minerals. 

The UL for vitamin C is 2000 mg/day for breastfeeding women aged 19-50 years old (the same for non-lactating adults).

The chart below shows the vitamin and mineral dosages for Emergen-C as well as for a common postnatal vitamin by Nature Made. The last column shows the UL for each noted vitamin and mineral.

Emergen CNature Made Postnatals Multi + DHAUL (Tolerable Upper Intake Levels) Lactating women 19-50 years old
Vitamin C1000 mg120 mg2000 mg/d
Thiamin.36 mg1.4 mgND (not determinable)
Riboflavin.39 mg1.6 mgND (Not Determinable)
Niacin4 mg17 mg35 mg/d
Vitamin B610 mg2 mg100 mg/d
Folate167 mcg DFE830 mcg DFE1000 microgram/d
Vitamin B1225 mcg5.8 mcgND (Not Determinable)
Pantothenic Acid2.5 mg7 mgND (Not Determinable)
Calcium50 mg150 mg2500 mg/d
Phosphorus38 mg
Magnesium53 mg45 mg350 mg/d
Zinc2 mg12 mg40 mg/d for 19+ years old and lactating
Manganese.5 mgnot included
Chromium10 mcgnot included
Sodium65 mgnot included
Potassium200 mgnot included

In good news, total dosages of noted vitamins and minerals in Emergen C and Nature Made’s Postnatal vitamins are under the Food and Nutrition Board’s ULs.

The Food and Nutrition Board does not set ULs for thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B 12, and pantothenic acid. They mark these as “ND” (not determinable). There is no data on the negative effects of these vitamins at high levels. 

The one vitamin that comes very close to the upper limit after combining Nature Made’s postnatal vitamin dosage with the Emergen C dosage is folate.

The folate in Emergen C (167 mcg) combined with the folate in the postnatal vitamin (830 mcg) equals a total of 997 mcg. This is 3 micrograms shy of the 1000 mcg/d tolerable upper limit. 

The CDC explains that the 1000 mcg/d upper limit for folate was established because excess folate can mask vitamin B12 deficiency and accompanying health problems.

Based on their data related to folic acid and vitamin B12, the Institute of Medicine set the LOAEL (lowest observed adverse effect level) at 5000 mcg/d for folic acid. This is 5 times higher than the established UL (tolerable upper limit) to prevent people from getting close to that LOAEL level.

After learning this, the idea of being right at the UL for folate if I were taking Emergen C and a postnatal vitamin doesn’t sound as questionable. Nearly 1000 mcg/day of folate is more though than is generally needed for breastfeeding moms.

3. Vitamin C in Breastmilk

In a review of studies on breastfeeding and vitamin C, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development cites a study where breastfeeding mothers were given up to 1000 mg of vitamin C daily for 2 days. Even the breastmilk that had the highest levels of vitamin C did not pose any safety risks for an infant.

4. Scientific Evidence Supporting Extra Vitamin C Benefits

It’s hard taking care of young children without having a nasty cold, so potentially lessening the severity of a cold by taking some extra vitamin c through a product like Emergen C is an enticing prospect. 

Scientific Studies on the Benefits of Vitamin C

  • In a meta-analysis in BMC Public Health, researchers concluded that vitamin C reduces the severity of colds by 15-26%.

To reach their conclusion, researchers analyzed randomized controlled trials and placebo-controlled trials. Study participants took 1000 mg or more of vitamin C daily. The majority of the studies included in the meta-analysis had participants taking 1000 mg/day of vitamin C for 3 months.

  • Researchers conclude in a study published in Breastfeeding Medicine that 500 mg of vitamin C and 100 IU of vitamin E improve antioxidants in breast milk and infant urine. 

While an interesting study on the positive effects of higher levels of vitamin C, the results aren’t necessarily translatable to the vitamin C in Emergen-C. Emergenc-C powder packets do not have vitamin E in them and also contain twice the amount of vitamin C as was administered in the study. 

Emergen C Chewables do have 13.5 mg of vitamin E in them, however, this is less than the 100 IU of vitamin E that participants took in the study. 

5. Focusing on Sleep, Diet, and Exercise

As a breastfeeding mom, I am interested in trying daily Emergen C through the cold and flu season to possibly reduce the severity of sick symptoms. I know it is not a magic elixir, but anything that might help even a little bit when battling a nasty bug and simultaneously trying to take care of little ones is a major plus.

I will be watching out for any potential negative side effects that come with taking high levels of vitamin C. While 1000 mg of daily vitamin C is under the established UL, I wonder how some people may not have the same level of tolerance for higher doses of vitamin C as others do.

1000 plus mg of vitamin C in a day may work great for one person, but it may be too much for another and result in unpleasant side effects like diarrhea and nausea. Breastfeeding moms need to stay hydrated, so a bout of diarrhea certainly is not going to do them any favors. I’ll take a sore throat over that any day! 

Additionally, Healthline explains that excess vitamin C in the body is flushed out through urine since it is a water-soluble vitamin. So if I am potentially consuming more vitamin C in my postnatal vitamin, Emergen C, and food sources all combined than my body can process, am I essentially flushing money down the toilet? Perhaps my money would be better spent on whole foods and lifestyle habits to support healthy and normal immune function than Emergen C. Food for thought.

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