As a new parent, you might have heard about vitamin D from friends or your baby's pediatrician. But what exactly is it, and how should you make sure your baby's needs for vitamin D are being met?
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a vitamin that has an important role in many functions in our bodies. The most commonly known function of vitamin D is with bone health. Adequate levels of vitamin D can help to produce strong bones as well as improved muscle strength.
Severe vitamin D deficiency is the cause of rickets. Rickets is when bone development is impaired, producing soft bones and preventing healthy growth in children. This usually manifests with bow legs.
Low levels of vitamin D have in recent years started to become associated with an increased risk of many common diseases. Things like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even impaired immune system function and an increased risk of upper respiratory viruses and the flu have all been associated with vitamin D levels. (ref)
The role of vitamin D in many of these diseases is still being fully explored. But there is enough evidence currently to support the focus on adequate vitamin D levels in all stages of life.
How Do You Get Enough Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is frequently referred to as the sunshine vitamin. This is because our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when UV rays from direct sunlight hit our skin. With rates of skin cancer over the last few decades rising, however, sunblock and protective clothing have become the norm. With limited exposure to sunlight, vitamin D levels decline.
We also know that different latitudes have different amounts of absorbable UV rays throughout the year. The angle of the sun in northern and southern latitudes that are farther away from the equator are not adequate for sun absorption sometimes for 4, 5, and 6 months of the year. This includes many parts of the United States, Canada, and Europe in the northern hemisphere alone.
Further, for those who have dark skin, the melanin in their skin acts as a type of sunblock. This results in lower levels of vitamin D synthesis, and resulting lower levels of vitamin D in their bodies.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
If we are no longer getting adequate vitamin D from the sun, can we get it from food sources like many other nutrients?
Unfortunately, there are very few food sources that have enough vitamin D in them to meet your baby's daily vitamin D requirement.
The best source of natural vitamin D is fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and even tuna. Egg yolks also contain a small amount of vitamin D.
The only plant-based food with vitamin D is mushrooms. Though there isn't much vitamin D in most mushrooms. There are some varieties, however, that have been specifically exposed to more UV light to increase their vitamin D amounts.
Beyond natural sources of vitamin D, there are several foods that have been fortified with vitamin D. These fortified foods can be an important source of vitamin D for many people!
The most commonly fortified food here in the United States is whole milk. Soy milk and other alternative milks are also frequently fortified, as well as some fruit juice varieties.
With all of these fortified foods, you would need a rather large amount to meet your daily intake needs. In most cases, babies, older infants, and even adults will not be able to get the amount of vitamin D that they need from the fortified foods alone.
Vitamin D for Breast-Fed Infants
When it comes to babies who have not been introduced to solid foods yet, vitamin D is also a concern.
With breast milk and breast fed babies, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a daily supplement of 400 international units (IUs) of vitamin D starting in the first few days of life. (ref)
There is some recent research showing that for those parents who don't wish to supplement, a high dose of vitamin D taken by the nursing parent can provide adequate vitamin D through breast milk. The dose recommended is usually 6400 IUs a day of vitamin D. Talk with your healthcare provider and your child's doctor before going this route.
Formula-Fed Infants and Vitamin D
Infant formula is fortified with vitamin D, but your baby needs to be drinking 32 ounces of formula or more in order to get an adequate daily dose of vitamin D. Many formula-fed babies in their first months and years of life simply do not drink enough to meet this!
If your baby is one that doesn't get 32 ounces of baby formula, then the recommendation is to provide a daily vitamin D supplement, just like you would for breast fed infants.
Vitamin D Supplementation for Babies and Toddlers
Vitamin D is one of the few vitamin supplements that I recommend across the board for everyone! Now that we've gotten through why your baby or toddler needs a vitamin D supplement, let's talk about the specifics of what to give.
Most dietary supplements are not regulated, and that is something to be mindful of. The liquid vitamin D supplements that you will give your baby are included in this.
I recommend sticking with some of the more transparent brands who provide third party testing results for their products to ensure potency and that your baby is getting the correct dose.
Babies under one year of age need 400 IU of vitamin D supplementation daily. For babies and toddlers over a year, the recommendation increase to 600 IU of supplemental vitamin D daily.
Liquid vitamin D drops are generally the best source of vitamin D. These liquid drops contain enough IU of vitamin D3 in a single drop to meet your baby's needs for a day.
When it comes to what drops to buy, focus on ones that contain no artificial colors, artificial flavors, or artificial sweeteners. You'd be surprised what some of the supplements designed for babies in liquid form contain!
Ones like these Baby DDrops and these Carlson baby vitamin D drops contain simple coconut oil and a vitamin D3 supplement. These other similar vitamin D drops contain vitamin D3 and extra virgin olive oil. These are all great options with no fillers and reliable potency.
The Baby DDrops also come in a 600 IU version for babies over a year of age.
Focus on Vitamin D for Your Baby!
Vitamin D really is one of the most important nutrients for your baby. And for you! Unfortunately, there are just not many great food sources of it. And most of us, for varying reasons, are unable to get adequate amounts of it from the sun.
So unless you live right by the equator, are outside frequently without sun protection, or eat a ton of vitamin D rich fatty fish, I recommend supplementing vitamin D.
Get the Baby course
Setting the Foundation
Learn WHAT to feed, and HOW to feed it. With answers and guidance that you never knew you needed. The foundations course will set you and your child up for a lifetime of positive feeding and eating!