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Vitamin D Supplementation for Babies: Is It Needed?

As new (or still expecting) parents, you’ve likely gone through the classes, read the books and asked all the questions of your doctor.

You’ve been told that breastfeeding is by far the optimal choice regarding your baby’s nutrition.

It’s true, a mother’s milk provides the best nourishment a newborn could ever get… but is that all they need?

It turns out, a mother’s milk provides all the necessary vitamins in sufficient amounts except for vitamin D.

Human milk typically contains a vitamin D concentration of 25 IU per liter or less, far below the recommended daily intake. Add to that the fact that infants naturally don’t get a lot of exposure to direct sunlight, which would give their bodies a chance to produce their own vitamin D, and you have a strong case for vitamin D supplementation for babies. 

vitamin d supplementation for babies

According to HealthyChildren.org, “your pediatrician should prescribe a vitamin D supplement for your breastfed baby; in fact, the AAP [American Academy of Pediatrics] recommends that all breastfed babies receive 400 IU of oral vitamin D drops, starting during the first few days of life and continuing until they are drinking vitamin D-fortified formula or milk (500 mL or about 17 oz).” 

The AAP and the Institute for Medicine make the following recommendations for vitamin D supplementation for infants:

  • Breastfed or partially breastfed babies can take up to 400 IU of liquid vitamin D per day, and you can start this supplementation almost immediately (within the first week of life). 
  • Continue vitamin D supplementation for your baby until you wean him off breastmilk or he starts to drink 32 ounces of formula fortified with vitamin D (or whole cow’s milk). 
  • If you’re not breastfeeding, similar rules apply: for babies consuming less than 32 ounces of vitamin D fortified forumla per day, they can take up to 400 IU of liquid vitamin D daily. Continue supplementation until your baby starts drinking that 32 ounces of fortified formula each day. 

Why Is Vitamin D Important for Babies?

Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins for maintaining strong bones. As your baby develops, he needs adequate amounts of vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorus and build strong bones. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, “too little vitamin D can cause rickets, a softening and weakening of bones. Since sun exposure — an important source of vitamin D — isn't recommended for babies younger than 6 months, supplements are the best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency in infants.”

As your baby gets older (around 4-6 months) and you start adding solid foods to his diet, your pediatrician may recommend you stop supplementing and instead rely on the nutrients found in the fruits and vegetables you’ll be feeding your baby.

However, depending on the situation, you may be instructed to continue with the vitamin D drops, or even add additional vitamin supplements to your baby's diet. 

Infants who eat a variety of solid foods or take the recommended 32 ounces of fortified formula likely won’t need additional supplementation. But premature babies, babies born at a low birth weight and those who are either small for their age and/or consistently take less than 32 ounces may need supplemental nutrition. 

Talk to your pediatrician before making any decisions, but also use your common sense and follow any label directions.

Don’t exceed the recommended daily amount and always use the dropper that comes with the liquid vitamin D. For older toddlers, you can also try chewable vitamin D or gummies. 

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