Vitamin D: How Much Do Babies Need?

By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

Right after birth, your baby needs vitamin D on a daily basis to help prevent bone softening and weakness that can start early in life.

Vitamin D assists calcium

Calcium may get most of the attention for building and maintaining strong bones, but calcium cannot do its duty without vitamin D.

Vitamin D bolsters the body's absorption of calcium, and phosphorus, also necessary for proper bone development, from the foods and dietary supplements consumed.

Vitamin D also oversees the movement of calcium in and out of bones, which boosts skeletal strength and allows the body to maintain the necessary amount of calcium in the blood for a regular heartbeat and normal muscle movement.

Inadequate vitamin D intake can cause rickets in children. Rickets is a softening and weakening of the bones that is most likely to occur during rapid periods of growth, such as infancy.

Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin

Your body, and your baby's, can make vitamin D. Vitamin D production is triggered by exposing the skin to strong sunshine.

In theory, you can make all the vitamin D you need by getting a certain amount of sunlight on your skin. But that's not a healthy strategy for infants younger than six months, whose skin is too tender to expose to strong sunlight.

Sources of vitamin D for your baby

Since sun exposure is out of the question for infants, how do they get the vitamin D they need?

This may come as a surprise, but breast milk is low in vitamin D. That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that all babies, including those that are exclusively breastfed, consume 400 International Units (I.U.) of vitamin D of supplemental vitamin D daily beginning soon after delivery.

Infant Formula is fortified with vitamin D. Most brands provide 400 IU of in vitamin D in 32 ounces. However, babies won't be drinking 32 ounces of formula for some time after being born, so you need to give your baby some vitamin D drops until he consumes 32 ounces of infant formula daily.

Whether you're baby is breastfed or formula-fed, ask your doctor how much vitamin D is right for your baby. Never give your baby more vitamin D than is recommended by your pediatrician or suggested on the label.

About the Author

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, a writer, and mother of three. She has worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Heart Association, and for seven years counseled children and adults about healthy eating and disease prevention at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston.

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