Only small amounts of vitamin D are transferred in breast milk. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends that you give your breastfed baby a supplement of 400 IU per day of vitamin D, starting in the first few days of life. Babies who are fully or partially formula fed but drink less than 32 ounces of formula a day also need a daily 400 IU vitamin D supplement .
Our bodies produce vitamin D after the skin is exposed to sunshine. But ideally your baby won’t be sunbathing at all in the first six months, so he won’t get enough vitamin D from the sun – even if you live in a relatively sunny place, such as Florida.
The skin of very young babies is extra thin and delicate, and every minute of sun exposure contributes to skin cancer risk and wrinkling later in life – even if the skin doesn’t burn. Sunscreen helps keep babies safe in the sun, but it also blocks the rays that enable the body to produce vitamin D.
Consider these general guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine for vitamin D for babies:
- If you’re breast-feeding or partially breast-feeding your baby, give your baby 400 international units (IU) of liquid vitamin D a day — starting in the first few days after birth. Continue giving your baby vitamin D until you wean your baby and he or she drinks 32 ounces (about 1 liter) a day of vitamin D-fortified formula.
- If you’re feeding your baby vitamin D-fortified formula, give your baby 400 IU of liquid vitamin D a day — starting in the first few days after birth — until your baby drinks at least 32 ounces (about 1 liter) a day.
While breast milk is the best source of nutrients for babies, it likely won’t provide enough vitamin D. Your baby needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorus. 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 and you add solid foods to his or her diet, you can help your baby meet the daily vitamin D requirement by providing foods that contain vitamin D (see below). Keep in mind, however, that most babies won’t consistently eat these foods during their first year.
When giving your baby liquid vitamin D, make sure you don’t exceed the recommended amount. Carefully read the instructions that come with the supplement and use only the dropper that’s provided. Chewable and gummy vitamins that contain vitamin D are available for older children.
If you have questions about your baby’s need for vitamin D supplements, consult your baby’s doctor. You might also ask your baby’s doctor about vitamin D recommendations for older children. Some guidelines suggest increasing vitamin D to 600 IU a day at age 1 and beyond.
Do any baby foods contain vitamin D?
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
- fortified milk, cereals and certain brands of orange juice(not recommended for babies under 1 year of age)
- egg yolk
- oily fish (like salmon, tuna and mackerel – although king mackerel should be avoided) and fish oils
- mushrooms. These contain a little vitamin D – but recent research has shown that brief exposure to UVB rays can dramatically boost their vitamin D levels. This could mean that mushrooms may soon become a better dietary source of vitamin D than the dreaded cod liver oil!