Most people don’t know it, but vitamin D isn’t technically a vitamin.
In fact, vitamin D is a steroid hormone.
When exposed to sunlight, the human body produces vitamin D from cholesterol. Ha!
Nevertheless, the sun rarely provides the daily requirement of vitamin D.
Plus, you can’t really take your baby out to direct sunshine, can you?
Furthermore, there is only a handful of foods rich in vitamin D. This isn’t something babies can eat much of in the early months of their lives.
So, where should they get their daily intake of vitamin D from?
And why exactly do they need vitamin D?
Well, allow me to shed some light on vitamin D supplementation and why your little one needs her daily vitamin D influx.
Why Do Babies Need Vitamin D Supplement?
Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels in an organism is essential for absorbing calcium growing healthy bones and muscles. Furthermore, vitamin D plays a vital role in developing an effective immune system that protects us from many diseases. As such, it is recommended that breastfed babies get 10 micrograms or 400 IU of vitamin D daily. Supplements aren’t necessary for formula-fed babies, as long as they get at least 500ml of formula a day. That’s because infant formula is fortified with vitamin D.
1. Benefits of Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in your baby healthy development.
It helps the absorption of calcium and regulates the level of phosphorus in the blood.
These factors are essential for the healthy growth of muscles, teeth and bones.
Amongst other key benefits of keeping vitamin D at the recommended level are the following;
- It boosts the function of the immune system,
- It helps fight and reduce the risk of many diseases such as multiple sclerosis, heart disease
- It reduces the risk of catching severe illnesses, such as flu or Covid-19 infections.
- It helps regulate mood and reduces the risk of anxiety and depression
- It helps with weight loss and weight management
Unfortunately, the statistic shows that only around 20% of all infants receive the recommended daily dose of 400 IU a day from any source.
What’s more, only 10% of breastfed babies meet that requirement.
Hence paediatricians across the globe urge parents to supplement their little ones with the vitamin D they need from birth until 5 years of age.
2. Sources Of Vitamin D
There are 3 primary sources of vitamin D: sunlight absorption, vitamin D-rich foods and dietary supplements.
2.1 Sun Exposure
The sun is the best natural source of vitamin D.
And the human body has that incredible ability to produce vitamin D from the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays – how cool is that?!
To give you an idea of the numbers – a whole-body exposure for 15 minutes during summer mid-day can produce as much as 10,000 IU (international units)!
But it is not that easy to get your body to produce vitamin D from solar radiation. There are a few factors that affect production.
- Wearing a sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or more reduces the absorption of the sun by 95%, drastically reducing the production of vitamin D.
- Naturally, the clothing also creates a barrier to the sun. So, the more skin is exposed to the sun, the more vitamin D the body can make.
- The body produces more vitamin D when the sun is at its highest point – during midday.
- Vitamin D production also depends on the colour of the skin. To produce the same amount of vitamin D as people with lighter skin, people with darker skin must spend longer in the sun.
- People who live closer to the Equator produce more vitamin D than those living closer to the Poles.
- Air pollution and urban environment with high rise buildings reduce sun exposure and production of vitamin D.
The problem is – babies younger than six months shouldn’t really take a sunbath.
In fact, it is recommended to minimise their exposure to the sun… Especially when they wear no clothes or sunscreen.
That’s because their skin has very little melatonin, responsible for protection from sun radiation.
Also, it can be too dangerous, as they can burn their skin. Not to mention the risk of skin damage and developing skin cancer.
Therefore, it is not recommended for babies to make vitamin d the old-fashioned way but from other sources.
2.2 Food Rich In Vitamin D
There is not much food that contains vitamin D. Hence you will find some products on the market that are fortified with it.
So, in raw products vitamin D can be found in the following food: egg yolk, beef liver, prawns, oily fish like mackerel, tuna, sardines and salmon, cod liver oil. However, to get your daily dosage of vitamin D, you will have to consume about 5 ounces (140g) of salmon, 7 ounces of halibut (200g), or 16-ounce (450g) of canned tuna.
Among the fortified foods, the most common are milk, yoghurt breakfast cereals, fat spread, or dairy-free alternatives.
2.3 Vitamin D Supplements
Since sun exposure isn’t recommended for babies, and their diet is reduced to milk only – supplements are the best way (and safest) to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
Such supplements are readily available in pharmacies and supermarkets.
Typically, one pump or dropper of the vitamin contains the recommended daily dosage.
Make sure you read the label carefully and don’t exceed the recommended daily dosage.
3. Breastfed vs Formula Fed Babies
If your little one is exclusively breastfed, you will have to introduce a vitamin D supplement to complete her diet.
Despite the mantra, we often hear that breast milk is the best form of nutrition and contains everything your baby needs to grow and thrive. Everything – except for vitamin D! I am shocked that this important fact is often overlooked…
Therefore you should supplement your little one daily with 10 micrograms or 400 IU of vitamin D.
The truth is – mothers don’t have enough vitamin D in their bodies to pass it to their babies via breastmilk.
Research shows that they should get a daily dose of 5,000-6,000 IU to meet their needs and to supply their babies with recommended 400 IU of vitamin D.
However, before you start supplementing yourself with increased doses of vitamin D, you should consult your doctor. There is much controversy surrounding vitamin D intake.
You are better off taking a simple blood test to assess your vitamin D level. Based on the results, a daily intake plan will be recommended.
If your baby is is formula-fed, you need a vitamin D boost only for the first few months. Once your baby drinks at least 500ml of infant formula a day, you don’t need vitamin D drops. In that amount of milk, there is enough vitamin D to satisfy the baby’s daily needs.
Nevertheless, it is worth consulting the doctor at your child’s next check-up if you have any questions on that.
4. What Happens If My Baby Doesn’t Get Vitamin D?
If you don’t supplement your baby with vitamin D, your little one may suffer from a deficiency.
The main symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include low mood, frequent infections, hair loss, muscle, bone and back pain.
If the vitamin D deficiency remains untreated, it can lead to high blood pressure –hypertension, diabetes, autoimmune disease or even cancer.
Babies who don’t get enough vitamin D will also suffer from calcium deficit, which leads to rickets -a bone disorder.
This condition is quite common these days, especially among premature babies and those with darker skin.
The main symptoms of rickets are;-
- delayed growth due to poor bone development
- dental issues such as cavities, weak tooth enamel
- soft and weak bones prone to fractures
- bone pain resulting in a reluctance to walk and tiredness
- bone deformations such as; bowed legs, soft skull, thickening of wrists, knees and ankles.
There is an easy way to prevent it – by ensuring your baby gets enough vitamin D from supplements.
However, if your child exhibits these symptoms, you should seek medical attention for appropriate treatment.
5. Consequences Of Vitamin D Overdose
As with everything in life, vitamin D intake should be moderate.
While vitamin D deficiency is extremely common in the general population – too much vitamin D can cause vitamin D toxicity.
Even though sun exposure does not lead to excessive vitamin D production, it can happen if you misuse high-dose vitamin D supplements.
Most of the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity are caused by excess calcium in the body. The typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, kidney damage, high blood pressure and heart abnormalities, muscle weakness.
So, the bottom line is – always read labels and follow your doctor’s recommendations when taking supplements to get the dosage right!
Final Few Lines
There is no doubt vitamin D plays a crucial role in maintaining babie’s overall health.
Their body needs it to develop a strong skeleton, healthy muscles and proper functioning of the immune system.
Babies cannot really benefit from the natural production of vitamin D from solar radiation. Neither they can rely on food rich in Vitamin D. That’s because their diet is reduced to milk for the first 12 months of their life (except if they are formula-fed babies).
So, to make sure your child is getting enough vitamin D is to give her supplements. That’s the only viable option for babies anyway.