A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Breastfed newborns need vitamin D supplements

If you breastfeed, you may think your child is receiving all the nutrition needed. Surprisingly though, breast milk does not produce enough vitamin D for healthy bone growth.

“It’s for bone health,” said Dr. Jessica Lemke, a Marshfield Clinic family medicine physician. “Babies don’t get a lot of vitamin D in their diet until they’re a year old and can have cow’s milk, which is fortified with vitamin D.”

In severe cases, vitamin D deficiency in infants can result in rickets – a softening of bones, which leads to bowed legs, stunted growth or bone pain. In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended 400 international units (IU) per day of vitamin D for breastfed infants.

With proper supplementation, this goal is easy to achieve.

Mother and baby at the pharmacy looking at a medicine bottle - Vitamin D for breastfed infants

Vitamin D can be given to your baby directly through a vitamin D drop.

Ways to get vitamin D

Twenty minutes of sunshine is an adequate way for adults to receive vitamin D. For babies, their fair skin cannot handle the sunlight. Winter months and northern hemisphere locations also make it harder for adults to get enough vitamin D year round.

You have two ways to help your baby consume the recommended amount of vitamin D:

  1. You can provide your infant with vitamin D baby drops. Usually referred to as Ddrops, the supplement has two ingredients — 400 IU of pure vitamin D3 and fractionated coconut oil. One drop provides the recommended 400 IU, and the drop can be given into your baby’s mouth or added to their bottle.
  2. A second option is for you to take vitamin D supplements. You can purchase vitamin D soft gel capsules to take 6,400 IU daily. This boosts your levels to provide enough vitamin D in breast milk for your baby to have the right amount of nutrients.

“It’s more about convenience,” Lemke said. “Most mothers say the vitamin D drops have a smell, or their babies don’t like it, so taking supplements themselves is a lot easier.”

If your infant consumes formula instead of breast milk, vitamin D supplements are usually not needed.

“As long as they get 32 ounces a day, they get enough vitamin D from formula,” Lemke said. “Fed is best. If you need to use formula, then give your baby formula, but if you’re breastfeeding, you need to supplement with vitamin D.”

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