If you are breastfeeding exclusively, you can rest assured that your baby is getting almost all of the necessary nutrients needed for proper growth and development from your breastmilk. Adequate amounts of proteins, minerals, live and healthy bacteria, and most vitamins are transferred from you to her through your breastmilk to supply her growing body and brain with what she needs. She is also getting the bonding benefit of being close to mama during her feedings. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. Vitamin D is one nutrient that often needs to be supplemented. Mom’s breastmilk may not supply enough for your baby’s needs. This is often the case, and the medical community assumes that your baby will require additional supplementation of this vitamin unless mom is taking in very large amounts of Vitamin D through safe supplementation (more on that later!).
WHY DOES YOUR BREASTFED BABY NEED VITAMIN D?
Vitamin D is actually a hormone and is needed to support healthy bone development and to prevent rickets. This is a condition that causes soft, weak, or deformed bones. Children who don’t have enough Vitamin D may develop soft skulls and bowed legs. Although Vitamin D deficiency in babies is rare, it’s prevalence is on the rise. Despite this, unfortunately, not all pediatricians proactively mention the need for breastfed babies to be provided with supplemental Vitamin D while she is being exclusively breastfed.
Vitamin D can be taken in through foods or supplementation. The vitamin can also be converted through the skin from direct sunlight. This is why going for those long strolls with your baby isn’t only good for your mental sanity, but it is a healthy way to expose her (and you!) to some natural Vitamin D through sunlight!
Risk factors for Vitamin D deficiency include:
- Living close to the polar regions of the earth (like the Northeast, Canada, or the Southern point of South America) during winter months, when sun exposure is limited
- Residing somewhere with a lot of skyscrapers, which may block direct sunlight
- Living somewhere that is often overcast. The clouds may block sunlight from reaching the skin
- Using sunscreen often, which blocks the sun rays from the skin and therefore limits the ability to convert active Vitamin D
- Darker skin tones
- Limited outdoor time
- Wearing clothes that cover most of exposed skin
HOW CAN I MAKE SURE MY BABY IS GETTING ENOUGH VITAMIN D?
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 4-6 months of life and continuing to breastfeed as long as mother and baby desire is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The concern about not getting in enough Vitamin D should not deter a parent from breastfeeding. There are some simple things a parent can do to ensure your baby is getting in enough of this very important vitamin:
- Provide baby with 400 IU of Vitamin D drops daily (Sorry! I should have mentioned this will be a powdered formula to be mixed with BM or Formula). This is a simple step to do, and it is as simple as putting the drops on mom’s nipple before she feeds baby.
- Mom can explore taking in 6,400 IU Vitamin D3 herself daily via supplementation to produce enough vitamin D via her breastmilk. Data is not suggesting that when mom consistently supplements with this amount of Vitamin D3, her breastmilk actually provides adequate amounts of Vitamin D to her baby and baby supplementation may not be necessary. ****this option should be discussed with your doctor before it is started.
It is important to note that most infant formulas are fortified with adequate Vitamin D. Therefore, additional supplementation is not needed if baby is exclusively formula-fed. If she is being supplemented with formula, the quantity of formula vs. breastmilk that is being consumed should be assessed to determine how much Vitamin D supplementation is necessary. This should be discussed with your health care provider to attain the most accurate solution and to keep your baby safe.
WHAT SHOULD A PARENT LOOK FOR WHEN CONSIDERING VITAMIN D DROPS FOR BABY?
There are plenty of options of Vitamin D drops for infants. Many appear to be similar, but there are some characteristics that families should look out for when selecting this type of supplementation:
- Ensure the Vitamin D drop supplement is made with Cholecalciferol. This may also show up on the label as Vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 are two “versions” of Vitamin D. Vitamin D3 is the preferred source according to many expert panels. We want to make sure that your baby is absorbing the Vitamin appropriately. If the source is the D3 form, appropriate absorbtion will occur.
- Some vitamin D drops will be made with a type of oil. This is generally safe and will not trigger any allergic reaction. Allergies are triggered by proteins and not by fats. Don’t let the oil deter you from choosing one option over another. Often you will find sunflower oil included in the composition.
- Choose an option that is third-party verified to ensure that you are actually getting what you are paying for
- Consider a drop that offers more features and benefits for your baby, like the addition of live probiotics. If you are choosing a Vitamin D supplement/probiotic combo, make sure the drops were not put in extreme heat. Many strains of live probiotics will not survive high temperatures (often above 100 degrees Fahrenheit). If you are mail-ordering your drops, make sure the truck is climate controlled or the package was packaged with an ice pack.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that many babies may not be getting enough of. Ensuring adequate intake of this important nutrient is as simple as adding a few drops of a flavorless liquid to your baby’s diet daily. It is an easy and inexpensive step. It will help ensure your breastfed baby is getting all that she needs from a nutrition standpoint.
American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Vitamin-Iron-Supplements.aspx
National Organization for Rare Diseases. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/rickets-vitamin-d-deficiency/
La Leche League. https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/vitamin-d/