I always ask breastfeeding moms if they give their baby a vitamin D supplement, and they often look at me with confusion—a supplement? For my baby? Other moms say their doctor recommended it, but they didn’t understand why it was important.
Has your doctor recommended a vitamin D supplement for your breastfed baby? Or have you heard that your baby might need one? Are you sitting there thinking, “I thought breast milk had everything my baby needs?”
Today, I’m going to clear up some of the confusion around vitamin D for breastfed babies. I’ll go over why vitamin D is important for your baby and give you 3 different ways to get an optimal amount of vitamin D—enough for you and your baby.
Last week I went into detail about vitamin D needs because it is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in America. If you didn’t catch that post and would like some more background information on vitamin D, you can check it out here.
Here’s a quick refresher:
- Vitamin D is a vital nutrient for strong, healthy bones and reducing your risk of various health conditions.
- The best source of vitamin D is from the sun. Our skin absorbs the sunlight and converts it into vitamin D (kind of like photosynthesis!).
- Skin color and cloud coverage can affect how quickly your body absorbs vitamin D, so certain populations are at much higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Why are vitamin D supplements recommended for breastfed babies?
Vitamin D doesn’t transfer into the breast milk as well as other nutrients do. Women need to have high levels of vitamin D to provide adequate amounts to their baby through breast milk.
Prenatal vitamins contain vitamin D, but not high enough levels to pass adequate amounts into breast milk. Our diet often doesn’t provide us with enough vitamin D, and there are many factors that affect how much vitamin D our body absorbs from sunlight. Most moms’ diet and lifestyles, even including a prenatal vitamin, will not provide sufficient amounts of vitamin D to their baby.
Vitamin D supplements are recommended for breastfed babies to ensure that they are getting all the vitamin D they need for proper growth and development. Because vitamin D deficiency is so common, it’s important to make sure that your baby is getting adequate amounts.
Why is vitamin D important for my baby?
In infants and children, long term vitamin D deficiency causes rickets. Rickets is a disease of soft and weak bones that can lead to bowed legs. Rickets can also cause pain, slowed growth & development, and problems with teeth, like weak enamel.
While rickets is relatively rare in the US, it’s more common in babies with darker skin and those who are breastfed rather than formula fed. And rickets is the result of extreme vitamin D deficiency, but suboptimal vitamin D levels can still cause weaker and softer bones—it just may not be visible to the eye. Because infants grow significant amounts during the first few months of life, it’s important that they’re getting enough vitamin D so their bones can be strong and healthy.
Researchers are searching for the level of vitamin D that is optimal for health (not just the amount to prevent rickets). We are continuing to learn more about vitamin D and how low levels can affect a variety of health conditions. Check out last week’s post to learn more about vitamin D.
How do I make sure my baby is getting enough vitamin D?
Here are 3 ways for your baby to get enough vitamin D:
1. You can supplement your baby with vitamin D.
This is the easiest and most common way to provide vitamin D to infants because it ensures that your baby is getting the optimal amount of vitamin D (without the worry of how much is passing into your breast milk). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends supplementing your baby with 400 IUs of vitamin D daily. Since vitamin supplements for infants are in liquid form, you can just drop it straight into your baby’s mouth, or if you’re pumping, you can add it to their bottle.
2. You can supplement yourself with 6,000 IUs of vitamin D.
Many studies have found that 6,000 IUs of vitamin D is the amount needed to pass adequate amounts into your breast milk. This level is significantly higher than what is typically recommended, but upper limit levels vary by organization. The maximum daily amount according to the Food and Nutrition Board and Institute of Medicine is 4,000 IUs, while organizations like the Vitamin D Council set the limit at 10,000 IUs/day.
If you’re worried, toxicity for vitamin D is more often seen in extremely high doses (above 40,000 IUs) when taken daily for a month or longer, so taking 6,000 IUs of vitamin D shouldn’t pose a risk. But some people tolerate high doses of vitamin D better than others. Talk to your doctor before taking a high dose vitamin D supplement.
3. You can get adequate sunlight every day.
There are a lot of variables that can affect how quickly your body absorbs vitamin D from the sun. Read this post for loose guidelines about how long you need to spend outside to make optimal amounts of vitamin D.
Because absorption of vitamin D from sunlight is uncontrollable, I would be concerned every single day about whether I had made enough vitamin D. I would be scared to risk my baby being vitamin D deficient.
This is still a viable option, but it will be important for you to have your vitamin D levels checked by your doctor to ensure that you’re absorbing enough from the sun. Vitamin D does not stay in the body long term. So on days when you don’t get adequate sunlight, supplement either yourself or your baby.
Technically, you could set your baby out to bake in the sun so they can make their own vitamin D, but this is NOT RECOMMENDED.
*If your baby is partially breastfed and partially formula-fed and they are taking 32 ounces or more of formula per day, then they are getting enough vitamin D from the formula and do not need any additional supplementation.
Now you have 3 different options to ensure that your breastfed baby is getting adequate amounts of vitamin D. While you can absorb vitamin D from the sun, I believe that supplementing (either yourself or your baby) are safer options. Choose which one works best for YOU based on your health history, diet, and lifestyle.