Vitamin B12 for plant-based kids. Why does it matter, where does it come from, and how much do children need? Here’s what you need to know.
When you decide to transition to a vegan diet, or raise a predominantly plant-based family, one of the first questions you may be faced with is where you’re going to get vitamin B12.
Rightfully so, as vitamin B12 is a very important nutrient that does require extra attention on a fully plant-based diet.
The good news is that it’s not hard to meet your child’s vitamin B12 needs, even if they’re being raised on plants.
What is vitamin B12?
First, vitamin B12 is a water-soluble B vitamin also known as cobalamin.
It’s essential for many physiological processes, such as cell metabolism and DNA synthesis. It also helps in the formation of red blood cells to prevent megaloblastic anemia. It keeps nerves and blood vessels healthy. B12 plays a critical role in growth and development.
The main food sources of vitamin B12 are primarily animal products.
However, it isn’t because all animals just naturally produce it themselves. Instead, vitamin B12 is made by microorganisms in soil.
Most animals get vitamin B12 from eating plants that grow in B12- rich soil or from B12-fortified feed.They’re also exposed to bacteria-rich manure and unsanitized water, which helps B12 accumulate in their bodies.
Humans make some B12 in our intestinal tracts as well, but it’s unclear as to how much is actually bioavailable and can be utilized that way. As such, external sources are needed.
Best sources of vitamin B12 for plant-based kids
Given how important vitamin B12 is for growth and development, it’s essential to make sure your child gets enough of it.
At one time, plant foods were a better source of vitamin B12. However, due to agricultural antibiotic and pesticide use, as well as hygienic food practices today, vitamin B12 is not found reliably in plant-based sources and also has low absorption rates.
So, this makes it important for plant-based kids and adults to receive it elsewhere.
And, it’s worth noting that many plant-based dairy alternatives – like certain soy, oat, hemp, and pea milks – are fortified with vitamin B12 and can be beneficial to incorporate into your family’s routine.
B12-fortified nutritional yeast is another source that we enjoy using in our homes, in recipes like our 10 Minute Vegan Mac and Cheese.
Be sure to check the product label to verify whether something has vitamin B12 in it, and how much can be found in one serving.
Even though it’s a good idea to incorporate B12-rich foods in your child’s regular diet, the most reliable source for kids is a B12 supplement.
Vitamin B12 Supplements for Kids
Vitamin B12 supplements are easy to give, inexpensive, and accessible at most grocery stores, drug stores, or online. They often come in liquid sprays or are included in children’s multivitamins.
Vitamin B12 supplements come in many forms, such as cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin, and hydroxocobalamin.
Some research in adults shows that the bioavailability of these forms is similar. But, other research suggests that to achieve adequate intake, higher amounts of the methyl and adenosyl forms are best.
Research in children is sparse and mainly done on cyanocobalamin, but this form is less likely to be found in individual B12 supplements.
While we err on the side of caution when it comes to recommending a cyanocobalamin supplement, all B12 forms are okay.
Vitamin B12 needs for children
Overall, the requirements for vitamin B12 are small, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important to pay attention to where it comes from.
Furthermore, the absorption rate for vitamin B12 is fairly small, so doses significantly above the RDA are recommended to meet needs.
Below are the vitamin B12 RDA in micrograms (mcg) for children:
- 0-6 months: 0.4 mcg
- 7-12 months: 0.5 mcg
- 1-3 years: 0.9 mcg
- 4-8 years: 1.2 mcg
- 9-13 years: 1.8 mcg
- 14-18 years: 2.4 mcg
Vitamin B12 Doses for Children
To meet needs, we recommend the following B12 dosing for children. Note that these offer different options for supplementing twice daily once daily, or twice per week.
- 1-3 years:
- 1 mcg twice daily
- 5 mcg once daily
- 4-10 years:
- 2 mcg twice daily
- 25 mcg once daily
- 11+ years:
- 2 mcg twice daily
- 50 mcg once daily
Pregnant and nursing women on a plant-based diet should be taking at least 2 mcg twice per day (or 150 mcg once daily) via supplements.
Formula-fed babies will receive all of their vitamin B12 needs from formula.
And, there is no upper limit for vitamin B12, so you don’t have to worry about that.
Meeting the requirements of vitamin B12 for plant-based kids can be easily achieved with a diet that incorporates a variety of B12- fortified foods and an appropriate B12 supplement.
For more detail about the best supplements for plant-based kids, including brand recommendations for vitamin B12 and other micronutrients, grab your copy of our comprehensive Supplement Guide.
Chime In: What other questions do you have about vitamin B12 for kids?
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Thank you so much for this post!!
Lynn Turcotte-Schuh says
Loved this post! Super informative as usual. Thank you for taking the time to research all this content!
Thank you for this post!
I have a question, it’s truth that you can have excess of B12 and cause illness or symptoms of something wrong. If so how much is too much and how to recognize if it’s because of that? TIA
There is no upper limit for B12 because it is water-soluble and studies haven’t shown any harmful effects from excess B12. However, there are some reports of acne in adults taking very large amounts of B12.
Jennifer Rysdam says
I’m curious as to the difference between the daily, weekly, and twice monthly amounts. Is there a reason why it increases at such a dramatic rate? Thanks for all the great info 🙂
Yes it all depends on the absorption rate, which decreases drastically after about 2 mg.
Jennifer Rysdam says
Sidra Hussain says
Hi, Thanks for your detailed post. My question is what is a good time to take a B12 supplement for a 3 year old? Also does taking one egg daily or a small bowl of yogurt fulfills the B12 need for a 3 year old? Many thanks
You can take B12 anytime– one egg contains 0.6mcg of B12 and 100g of yogurt contain 0.9mcg of b12 so that wouldn’t be enough to meet needs for a 3 year old.
Sidra Hussain says
Thank you 🙂
Stacy Cross says
Hi – thanks so much for this info! Do you know if it’s safe to give our kids (ages 4,6,9,11) one of our 5,000mcg B-12s about once a week? It’s Cyanocobalamin.
Can a 1 year old take 750 mcg once weekly? I haven’t found one that can be doses out less. Must be organic and vegan. It is spray form and 3000mcg per 4 sprays.
Also baby was born at 33 weeks and is 12 months actual – does this make a difference in dosing ?
Hi Shana, premature doesn’t make a difference in dosing. Our hesitation with the once a week recommendations is that the efficiency isn’t well studied in kids. We know that twice-weekly megadoses are OK for adults, but unsure about childrens needs. If it’s in a spray, can you give less– one spray a day? While we don’t know much about larger dosing in children, the assumption is that as a water-soluble nutrient it’s OK. I’m more concerned with kids not getting enough B12 than potentially too much.
Hi there, I need clarification on the mcg … My supplement is in liquid form so I give it in ml … How much would I need to give 1-3 year old then? Thanks
Hi, I downloaded the supplement guide but I’m still so confused. I checked out the recommendations of brands of b-12. Their dosing is so high. My son is 2 and your guide says you recommend 5mcg a day. The serving size for Live Wise is 1,000mcg (5 drops). So if I give one drop that would still be 200mcg, isn’t that way too much? Thanks.
Yes. We aren’t aware of a lower B12 that’s available online— we only absorb about 1% of B12 over 1mcg, so even though 200mcg seems like a lot, you need higher levels to get the recommended 2.6mcg per day. That’s why all B12 supplements are so high as manufacturers take this into consideration. You may be able to get a lower dose at your grocery store– Whitney can get a 40mcg/drop dose at her Sprouts. For adults, we have studies showing that higher doses every other day or weekly is safe but we don’t have that same data on children. Is it likely OK to give them higher doses every other day? Likely– but because we don’t have the data to conclusively say so we err on giving too much rather than too little.
I’m not able to find anything close to the recommended dosing for my 14 month old.
How many times a week would I give him a 500mcg spray?
Hi Aleks, we currently don’t have data on weekly or biweekly doses like we do in adults with levels that high. Since we absorb very little of B12 in higher doses, we currently err on the side of giving too much rather than not enough. You could do 500mcg every day. That said, based on what we know about adult dosing it’s likely OK to give a higher dose like that every other day but because we don’t have the data to say that conclusively, we can’t recommend that.
Can I do a 100mcg spray for a 1 year old every day? Or is better to do 400mcg twice a week? Each spray is 100mcg.
Yes, for 1 years old we’d feel safer giving the higher dose every day.
What is 0.9 mcg in ml? I have an ml droplet
Hi C! It depends on your supplement– does it say how many mcg it contains per ml?
Hi, thank you for this information but can you just clarify for me how for an 11+ child it would be 2 mcg twice daily or 50 mcg once daily. Surely once a day should be 4mcg? I can see that it’s similar for all the age groups but I’m very confused by the maths if it’s the same units
Plant-Based Juniors says
Hi Elle– because of the way that B12 is absorbed, it’s a much higher dose than receiving B12 multiple times a day. We absorb ~1mcg or B12, and then about ~1-2% of the dose after that. So, for an 11+ child, we’d like to see at least 25 mcg a day to help take that into account.