NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-.

Cover of Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed)

Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet].

Show details

Vitamin E

Last Revision: December 3, 2018.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

CASRN: 59-02-9

Chemical structure

Drug Levels and Effects

Summary of Use during Lactation

Vitamin E is a normal component of human milk.[1] Maternal obesity, smoking and possibly preterm birth (<37 weeks gestational age) are associated with lower milk vitamin E levels. Lactating mothers may need to supplement their dietary intake of vitamin E to achieve the recommended daily allowance of 19 mg.[2] Daily maternal vitamin E supplementation from prenatal multivitamins can safely and modestly increase milk vitamin E levels and improve the vitamin E status of the breastfed infant compared to no supplementation. Higher daily dosages have not been studied.

Holder pasteurization (62.5 degrees C for 30 minutes) does not reduce milk antioxidant capacity, which is a reflection of vitamin E levels.[3]

Drug Levels

Alpha-tocopherol is the major isoform of vitamin E present in the human diet and in breastmilk.[2][4] Higher alpha-tocopherol milk levels result in greater milk antioxidant capacity.[3][5][6] However, the correlation between maternal serum levels and breastmilk levels is unclear.[7][8][9][10][11][12] A serum alpha-tocopherol concentration < 12 micromol/L indicates vitamin E deficiency in adults and children. One international unit (IU) = 0.67 mg of the stereoisomer d-alpha-tocopherol (the natural form); 1 IU = 0.45 mg of racemic dl-alpha-tocopherol (the synthetic form).[2]

Maternal Levels. In mothers not taking a vitamin E supplement, average alpha-tocopherol levels in colostrum range from 20 to 50 micromol/L. At 1 to 2 weeks postpartum, milk levels are 7 to 14 micromol/L, and beyond 2 weeks they are 3 to 9 micromol/L.[1][13] Hindmilk levels are higher than foremilk.[14] Maternal obesity and smoking are associated with lower milk alpha-tocopherol levels.[15][16] Preterm birth (< 37 weeks gestational age) may also be associated with lower milk levels. In some comparative studies, reported levels range from 1/3 to 2/3 lower in preterm than term milk.[6][15] Others have not found a difference associated with prematurity.[17][18]

In a series of prospective studies conducted by the same research group in Brazil, a single supplemental dose of vitamin E given to mothers in the first 48 hours postpartum produced small to modest short-term increases in colostrum and milk levels compared to no supplementation. The best results came from 400 IU of natural vitamin E which increased colostrum levels at 24 hours after the dose by about 60% relative to baseline, compared to a 36% increase from the same dose of synthetic vitamin E. By 7 days after the dose, mothers who received natural vitamin E had milk levels that were no different from baseline, although they were 35% higher than those not given a supplement.[9][11] A single 110 IU dose of synthetic vitamin E did not significantly change colostrum levels 24 hours after the dose.[7] Based on these studies, one-time doses of 100 to 400 IU vitamin E in the early postpartum period are not likely to improve the vitamin E intake of breastfed infants.

In Tanzania, 320 women with vitamin E deficiency (serum vitamin E levels of approximately 10 micromol/L) were given a daily multivitamin containing 30 mg (45 IU) natural vitamin E during pregnancy and postpartum. Their average milk levels of alpha-tocopherol at 3, 6 and 12 months postpartum were significantly higher (12.5, 11.5 and 10.3 micromol/L, respectively) compared to 306 women not given the multivitamin (10.3, 8.8, and 8.4 micromol/L).[19]

Infant Levels. The average serum level observed in healthy children is 20 micromol/L.[20]

In 306 HIV positive Tanzanian women who were given a daily multivitamin containing 30 mg (45 IU) daily of natural vitamin E starting at 12 to 27 weeks of pregnancy and continuing postpartum, the average serum alpha-tocopherol levels in their exclusively breastfed infants were significantly higher (17 and 15.7 micromol/L, respectively) at 6 weeks and 6 months postpartum compared to 288 women not given the multivitamin (15.2 and 14.6 micromol/L, respectively). All the women studied had similar serum vitamin E levels of approximately 23 micromol/L at baseline. The contribution of breastmilk to the higher infant vitamin E levels cannot be determined.[21]

Effects in Breastfed Infants

Relevant published information was not found as of the revision date.

Effects on Lactation and Breastmilk

Relevant published information was not found as of the revision date.


Lima MS, Dimenstein R, Ribeiro KD. Vitamin E concentration in human milk and associated factors: A literature review. J Pediatr (Rio J). 2014;90:440-8. [PubMed: 24953721]
National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin E fact sheet for health professionals. 2016. https://ods​​/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/​.AccessedDecember20,2017.
Elisia I, Kitts DD. Quantification of hexanal as an index of lipid oxidation in human milk and association with antioxidant components. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2011;49:147-52. [PMC free article: PMC3208008] [PubMed: 22128211]
Elisia I, Kitts DD. Different tocopherol isoforms vary in capacity to scavenge free radicals, prevent inflammatory response, and induce apoptosis in both adult- and fetal-derived intestinal epithelial cells. Biofactors. 2013;39:663-71. [PubMed: 23983193]
Tijerina-Saenz A, Innis SM, Kitts DD. Antioxidant capacity of human milk and its association with vitamins A and E and fatty acid composition. Acta Paediatr. 2009;98:1793-8. [PMC free article: PMC2773529] [PubMed: 19807706]
Quiles JL, Ochoa JJ, Ramirez-Tortosa MC et al. Coenzyme Q concentration and total antioxidant capacity of human milk at different stages of lactation in mothers of preterm and full-term infants. Free Radic Res. 2006;40:199-206. [PubMed: 16390829]
Dimenstein R, Lira L, Medeiros AC et al. [Effect of vitamin E supplementation on alpha-tocopherol levels in human colostrum]. Rev Panam Salud Publica. 2011;29:399-403. [PubMed: 21829962]
Resende FB, Clemente HA, Bezerra DF et al. Alpha-tocopherol concentration in serum and colostrum of mothers with gestational diabetes mellitus. Rev Paul Pediatr. 2014;32:178-86. [PMC free article: PMC4183008] [PubMed: 25119748]
Clemente HA, Ramalho HM, Lima MS et al. Maternal supplementation with natural or synthetic vitamin E and its levels in human colostrum. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2015;60:533-7. [PubMed: 25419678]
Fares S, Sethom MM, Kacem S et al. Retinol and alpha-tocopherol in the colostrum of lactating Tunisian women delivering prematurely: Associations with maternal characteristics. Pediatr Neonatol. 2016;57:120-6. [PubMed: 26293321]
Pires Medeiros JF, Ribeiro KD, Lima MS et al. alpha-Tocopherol in breast milk of women with preterm delivery after a single postpartum oral dose of vitamin E. Br J Nutr. 2016;115:1424-30. [PubMed: 26931347]
Kodentsova VM, Vrzhesinskaya OA. Evaluation of the vitamin status in nursing women by vitamin content in breast milk. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2006;141:323-7. [PubMed: 17073150]
Silva ALCD, Ribeiro KDDS, Melo LRM et al. Vitamin E in human milk and its relation to the nutritional requirement of the term newborn. Rev Paul Pediatr. 2017;35:158-64. [PMC free article: PMC5496727] [PubMed: 28977333]
Bishara R, Dunn MS, Merko SE et al. Nutrient composition of hindmilk produced by mothers of very low birth weight infants born at less than 28 weeks' gestation. J Hum Lact. 2008;24:159-67. [PubMed: 18436967]
Samano R, Martinez-Rojano H, Hernandez RM et al. Retinol and alpha-tocopherol in the breast milk of women after a high-risk pregnancy. Nutrients. 2017;9:E14. [PMC free article: PMC5295058] [PubMed: 28045436]
Ortega RM, Lopez-Sobaler AM, Martinez RM et al. Influence of smoking on vitamin E status during the third trimester of pregnancy and on breast-milk tocopherol concentrations in Spanish women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68:662-7. [PubMed: 9734745]
Haug M, Laubach C, Burke M et al. Vitamin E in human milk from mothers of preterm and term infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1987;6 :605-9. [PubMed: 3430268]
Grilo EC, Lira LQ, Dimenstein R et al. Influence of prematurity and birth weight on the concentration of alpha-tocopherol in colostrum milk. Rev Paul Pediatr. 2013;31:473-9. [PMC free article: PMC4183043] [PubMed: 24473952]
Webb AL, Aboud S, Furtado J et al. Effect of vitamin supplementation on breast milk concentrations of retinol, carotenoids and tocopherols in HIV-infected Tanzanian women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009;63:332-9. [PMC free article: PMC3095494] [PubMed: 17940544]
Traber MG. Vitamin E inadequacy in humans: Causes and consequences. Adv Nutr. 2014;5:503-14. [PMC free article: PMC4188222] [PubMed: 25469382]
Baylin A, Villamor E, Rifai N et al. Effect of vitamin supplementation to HIV-infected pregnant women on the micronutrient status of their infants. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59:960-8. [PubMed: 15956998]

Substance Identification

Substance Name

Vitamin E

CAS Registry Number


Drug Class

Disclaimer: Information presented in this database is not meant as a substitute for professional judgment. You should consult your healthcare provider for breastfeeding advice related to your particular situation. The U.S. government does not warrant or assume any liability or responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the information on this Site.


Related information

Similar articles in PubMed

See reviews...See all...

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...