Vitamin B12

Date: December 2017, Version 2

What is it?

Vitamin B12 (hydroxocobalamin, cyanocobalamin) occurs naturally in eggs, meat and dairy-based food, and is also present in certain vitamin supplements including some designed for use in pregnancy.

Deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to anaemia (where oxygen-carrying red blood cells do not function correctly) and symptoms including extreme tiredness, weakness, mouth ulcers, pins and needles, and eyesight, psychological, and memory problems. If vitamin B12 deficiency is not treated, some of these problems can become permanent. Deficiency is diagnosed using blood tests and is usually treated with vitamin B12 injections, followed by tablets.

Large doses of vitamin B12 are occasionally used to treat people with cyanide poisoning which most frequently occurs following smoke inhalation after building fires. High dose vitamin B12 is also used to treat a rare genetic disorder called methylmalonic acidemia.

Is it safe to use vitamin B12 in pregnancy?

There is no strong evidence that women with a varied diet need to take a vitamin B12 supplement in pregnancy. However, there is no suggestion that taking a vitamin B12 supplement in pregnancy at the recommended dose harms the developing baby.
Numerous studies have suggested that vitamin B12 deficiency in pregnancy may be linked to a higher chance of neural tube defects (such as spina bifida) in the baby. Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive and are diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency should therefore receive vitamin B12 supplementation as recommended by their doctor.

Where treatment with high dose vitamin B12 is required as an antidote to cyanide following smoke inhalation, it should not be withheld because of pregnancy. The effects of cyanide poisoning are likely to cause far more harm to a pregnant woman and her baby than any possible adverse effects of treatment with high dose vitamin B12.

What if I have already taken vitamin B12 during pregnancy?

If you are pregnant and have taken any medicines it is always a good idea to let your doctor know in case you need any additional monitoring or treatment.

This leaflet summarises the scientific studies relating to the effects of vitamin B12 supplementation on a baby in the womb.

Can use of vitamin B12 in pregnancy cause my baby to be born with birth defects?

A baby’s body and most internal organs are formed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is mainly during this time that some medicines are known to cause birth defects.

No studies have investigated the chance of birth defects in babies born to women taking vitamin B12 at any dose in pregnancy. However, there are 17 case reports of babies without birth defects born to women taking high dose vitamin B12 to treat methylmalonic acidemia in pregnancy. While this is reassuring, large, well-designed studies of pregnancy outcomes in women taking vitamin B12 in pregnancy are ideally required.

Can use of vitamin B12 in pregnancy cause miscarriage or stillbirth?

No studies have investigated the likelihood of miscarriage or stillbirth in women taking vitamin B12 at any dose in pregnancy. Research into this subject is therefore required.

Can use of vitamin B12 in pregnancy cause preterm birth or my baby to be small at birth (low birth weight)?

No studies have assessed the chance of preterm birth or low infant birth weight following use of vitamin B12 at any dose in pregnancy. Research into this subject is therefore required.

Can taking vitamin B12 in pregnancy cause learning or behavioural problems in the child?

A baby’s brain continues to develop right up until the end of pregnancy. It is therefore possible that taking certain medicines at any stage of pregnancy could have a lasting effect on a child’s learning or behaviour.

No studies have investigated learning and development in children exposed to vitamin B12 in the womb. Research into this subject is therefore required.

Will my baby need extra monitoring during pregnancy?

As part of their routine antenatal care, most women will be offered a scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy to look for birth defects and to check the baby’s growth.

Use of a vitamin B12 supplement in pregnancy is not expected to cause any problems that require additional monitoring of the baby. Women diagnosed with a vitamin B12 deficiency in early pregnancy may receive more detailed anomaly scans to check for neural tube defects in the baby.

Pregnant women who have received treatment with high dose vitamin B12 following smoke inhalation, or to treat the genetic disorder methylmalonic acidemia, are likely to receive additional monitoring to ensure that these issues have not affected their baby’s growth and development.

Are there any risks to my baby if the father has taken vitamin B12?

We would not expect any increased risk to your baby if the father used vitamin B12 before or around the time you became pregnant.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

If you have any questions regarding the information in this leaflet please discuss them with your healthcare provider. They can access more detailed medical and scientific information from

How can I help to improve drug safety information for pregnant women in the future?

Our online reporting system (MyBump Portal) allows women who are currently pregnant to create a secure record of their pregnancy, collected through a series of questionnaires. You will be asked to enter information about your health, whether or not you take any medicines, your pregnancy outcome and your child's development. You can update your details at any time during pregnancy or afterwards. This information will help us better understand how medicines affect the health of pregnant women and their babies. Please visit the MyBump Portal to register.

General information
Sadly, miscarriage and birth defects can occur in any pregnancy.

Miscarriage occurs in about 1 in every 5 pregnancies, and 1 in every 40 babies are born with a birth defect. This is called the ‘background risk’ and happens whether medication is taken or not.

Most medicines cross the placenta and reach the baby. For many medications this is not a problem. However, some medicines can affect a baby’s growth and development.

If you take regular medication and are planning to conceive, you should discuss whether your medicine is safe to continue with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant. If you have an unplanned pregnancy while taking a medicine, you should tell your doctor as soon as possible.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please make sure that the person prescribing it knows that you are pregnant. If you have any concerns about a medicine, you can check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist.

Our Bumps information leaflets provide information about the effects of medicines in pregnancy so that you can decide, together with your healthcare provider, what is best for you and your baby.