Vitamins and minerals play an essential role in nutrition, supporting your baby’s body – from healthy bones, teeth, and eye development to the formation of new cells. In the first months of life, babies receive vitamins from breast milk or baby formula as the main sources of nutrition. Nursing mothers need to follow a balanced diet, making sure it is rich in the nutrients that come from healthy foods, fruits, and vegetables. Mothers that choose to use formula need to be sure to study its composition to make sure that it contains all the necessary vitamins. In the US, the FDA regulates commercial infant formulas to make sure they meet minimum nutritional and safety requirements. Although formulas are regulated and must meet minimum nutritional and safety requirements, the Mayo Clinic recommends supplemental vitamin D for infants that consume less than 32 ounces of formula daily. There are many benefits of Vitamin D for babies, and too little vitamin D can cause health issues that are preventable. So, how do you know if your baby needs a vitamin D supplement?
Benefits of Vitamin D for Babies
To understand why your baby needs vitamin D, it’s important to know what the role of vitamin D is in the body, what are the benefits of vitamin D for babies, and whether or not your baby is at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Of course, this is a conversation you should have with your pediatrician. That said, here is some basic vitamin D information to help you understand your babies needs.
What do you know about vitamin D?
Vitamin D is the only vitamin that our body can produce on its own when exposed to sunlight. It is also called the sun’s vitamin. About 80-90% of vitamin D is produced in the skin. The rest comes from food. It is vital for children’s healthy growth and development: it helps absorb calcium and phosphorus, which affect child growth and health.
Newborn babies have almost no vitamin D reserve. And ironically, the smaller the baby, the more vitamin D he or she needs. That is why some sun exposure is so important. But for those that live in a region with mostly cloudy weather, this can be problematic. Add to this that breast milk may not contain the minimum recommended amount of vitamin D, and that infant formula only reaches the recommended minimum amount at roughly 32 ounces daily, and it’s easy to understand why many pediatricians recommend a vitamin D supplement.
The term “adequate intake” (AI) is used for vitamin D recommendations in infants. This is because there is insufficient evidence to develop a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for that age group. Adequate intake of vitamin D for infants from birth to 12 months is said to be 400 IU (international units) or 10 mcg (micrograms).
It’s important to discuss any supplementation with your babies pediatrician, and understand when your baby needs to take vitamin D, because vitamin D deficiency, and the associated health risks, can be prevented.
Which Babies are at Risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
Babies that are most at risk of vitamin D deficiency include babies that:
- are breastfed.
- their mothers don’t have enough vitamin D.
- they have darker skin.
- their skin is covered with clothing or sunscreen much of the time.
- they live in northern communities.
- they live in communities where vitamin D deficiency is common.
The role of vitamin D in infant development
The necessary level of this vitamin D in the body is reached a few months after birth. Premature babies have an even smaller supply, so it takes longer to recover.
Sufficient levels of vitamin D provide:
- Normal calcium-phosphorus metabolism;
- The growth and development of bone tissue;
- Muscular development;
- A robust immune system;
- Support for thyroid function;
- Normal blood clotting;
- Regulation of heartbeat.
It also prevents the occurrence of autoimmune diseases. It is also essential for mental development. Vitamin D is responsible for the formation of cognitive functions and their further maintenance. If, during active growth, the body lacks this substance, the child will suffer rickets. It is a disorder of osteogenesis (bone development) associated with a lack of minerals – mainly calcium and phosphorus.
Vitamin D and sunlight
For your baby’s body to produce vitamin D, it needs sunlight. An interesting fact is that a child gets about 80 percent of vitamin D from UV light exposure to the skin.
Scientists do not know how much sunshine children need to produce enough vitamin D in their bodies. But we know that the sunlight a child needs depends on the region and the time of year.
We all know that excessive exposure to the sun can lead to sunburn, damage, and even skin cancer. Infant skin is also thinner and more sensitive to sunlight, and they are more at risk for burns. Added to that is the fact that it isn’t really safe to use sunscreen on babies that are under six months old, and you’ll find many parents cover their babies skin when outdoors. When parents use protective measures to prevent sun burning, as they should, the side effect is that less sun exposure means less natural vitamin D production. This may lead to your pediatrician recommending taking vitamin D drops for your baby.
Vitamin D for breastfed and formula-fed infants:
Pediatricians agree that even if nursing mothers take vitamin D to meet their body’s needs, their children are the first at risk for vitamin D deficiency. That is because it is impossible to track how much vitamin D comes to the infant with breast milk and how much goes to the mother, so most pediatricians will recommend vitamin D drops for breastfed babies. Vitamin D is one critical component of infant formula. Organic formula is fortified with vitamin D, as is regular baby formula. That said, many pediatricians will recommend vitamin D drops for formula fed babies if their daily consumption does not meet the recommended guidelines.
It is important to know that Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it is possible to consume too much vitamin D, which presents a whole other set of problems including potential toxicity. That is why you should always discuss any supplements with your child’s pediatrician before giving them to your child.