This page is designed to answer questions about your baby and vitamin D, a subject which often causes confusion for parents.
PLEASE NOTE: The information given here is meant as a guide only and does not replace professional medical advice. You should always discuss your baby’s nutritional needs (including possible vitamin supplementation) with your doctor.
Vitamin D helps your baby’s body absorb calcium, which is needed for the healthy development of strong bones and teeth.
A deficiency of vitamin D can result in rickets, which affects the way bones develop and grow. The bones of a child with rickets are unable to sufficiently support his body weight, resulting in bowed legs.
The answer to this question can vary greatly from one culture/country to another, which is why you might come across lots of conflicting advice on the subject.
The most important source of vitamin D is not food… it’s sunlight!
In fact, vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin at all, but is a steroid hormone that the body produces using UVB rays from the sun.
Vitamin D deficiencies in babies can arise if babies receive inadequate exposure to sunlight.
Other risk factors for vitamin D deficiency in babies include:
We are all used to protecting our babies from the sun – in fact, AAP guidelines say that babies under 6 months of age should not be exposed to the sun at all and that older babies should be fully protected with sunscreen… but then we discover that they NEED sunlight in order to make vitamin D!
So how do we safely meet these needs?
Well, babies don’t actually need a lot of sun to make vitamin D – in fact, casual sun exposure may be enough.
A Mothering Magazine article – written by Katherine Barber, CLEC, the Founder and Executive Director of the African American Breastfeeding Alliance (AABA) and Mishawn Purnell-O’Neal, MPH, is an independent health consultant and President of the Chicago Chapter of the African American Breastfeeding Alliance – advises…
“To make enough vitamin D, a baby in a diaper needs a total of only 30 minutes of sunlight a week-less than five minutes a day. Fully clothed and without a hat, a baby would need two hours of sunlight a week, or about 20 minutes a day. Medium to darker skin tones need a little more time in the sun.”
And to allay parents’ fears about exposing their babies to the sun WITHOUT sunscreen, Becky Saenz, MD, IBCLC, Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, points out in the same article…
“There is a vast difference between recommending that it’s okay for baby to sit in the grocery buggy while mom puts the groceries into the car in the early morning or late afternoon, and recommending nude sunbathing at noon.”
Sometimes, babies do not get enough sunlight to make sufficient vitamin D. This could be due to
In these cases, vitamin D supplements may be recommended by a medical professional.
Many parents wonder if they can avoid the “sunlight” issue by including more vitamin D in their babies’ diets.
But only a few foods (listed below) contain vitamin D and even they do not contain huge amounts, so it is difficult to meet your baby’s needs with diet alone.
Another approach is for a breastfeeding mother to increase her OWN vitamin D intake – the amount of vitamin D contained in her breast milk relates directly to the vitamin D levels in her body.
Again, though, a mother would need to eat at least 3 servings of oily fish a week to meet her OWN vitamin D requirements.
So exposure to sunlight is still a key factor in maintaining the necessary vitamin D levels.
FOODS THAT CONTAIN VITAMIN D INCLUDE:
There is no doubt that this is a very controversial subject with widely varying guidelines. Your child’s vitamin D levels can be ascertained with a simple blood test, which some parents may find preferable to automatic supplementation.
The choice – of course – is yours to make, with the guidance of your child’s doctor.
For more information about vitamin D and your baby, you may find the following external link helpful.