What you need to know about babies and Vitamin D
From why they need it to how much, here's what you need to know about Vitamin D and your little one
Why do breastfed babies need a Vitamin D supplement, but bottle-fed babies only need it when they have less than 500ml of infant formula a day?
The simple fact is that nowadays the whole UK population is at risk of having low Vitamin D levels and are therefore recommended to take a Vitamin D supplement. This is because from September to April none of us tend to get enough Vitamin D from sunlight, which is the body’s usual way of creating Vitamin D (from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors).
If a breastfeeding mother takes a vitamin D supplement, why does her baby also need to take vitamin D?
Researchers have looked at this very question and here are their findings:
Mothers who took vitamin D supplements at typical doses of 10mcg or 400 IU per day while breastfeeding do not seem to pass enough active vitamin D metabolite in their breastmilk. Past studies show that breastmilk of normal healthy mothers contains only 5-80 IU/L. But a baby needs 400 IU per day!
Researchers found that a dose of 160mcg (or 6400 IU) per day for mum would provide enough circulating vitamin D to be able to supply her baby with the required amount. Yet, this dose is much higher than recommended, so as a precaution, health authorities recommend a daily vitamin D supplement for breastfed infants from birth. In addition, breastfeeding mums should also take vitamin supplements to ensure that they remain healthy.
 Hollis, B., et al. Maternal Versus Infant Vitamin D Supplementation During Lactation: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics 2015;136;625 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2015-1669
And why is Vitamin D important?
It’s simple science – Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body which keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
As it’s difficult for us to get enough Vitamin D from food alone, everyone should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of Vitamin D during the autumn and winter. Vitamin D levels are important at all ages, but particularly through stages of rapid growth – such as during pregnancy, infancy and childhood. During these critical life stages, regardless of the time of year, a daily vitamin D supplement is recommended.
All children aged 1-4 years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10mcg of Vitamin D, yet in the case of newborn and young babies, the recommendations are a little bit different.
This is because artificial milk (infant formula) has Vitamin D already added to it, which is why the Department of Health recommends that until a baby is having less than 500ml of infant formula a day, they don’t need a daily supplement.
The reason it’s recommended for breastfed babies from birth is as a precautionary measure. This is because a newborn baby’s Vitamin D level will depend on their mother’s Vitamin D status, as the amount of Vitamin D in their mother’s breastmilk relies on her Vitamin D intake and Vitamin D stores. Therefore, as a precaution and for added protection, it is now suggested that breastfed babies be given an additional 8.5-10mcg Vitamin D supplementation per day, as well as their mothers.
It’s not because there is a ‘problem’ with breastmilk. Indeed, it’s well recognised and evidenced that breastfeeding has a positive impact on the short, medium and long-term health of children and an important and lasting impact on women’s health.
Infant formula is not superior to breastmilk because supplementation is not required – it’s simply a case of that the infant formula already has Vitamin D added meaning that further supplementation is not needed (until baby has less than 500ml of infant formula a day, from which point they will need a daily Vitamin D supplement).