Thursday, July 22, 2010

Should I Be Giving My Baby Vitamin D?

At our July meeting we discussed how to avoid difficulties with breastfeeding, especially during the hot summer months. One topic that came up was the subject of Vitamin D. Should we be supplementing our breastfed babies? What about ourselves?

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding has a section specifically about Vitamin D. In the newest edition, it is on page 158.

"Recent research has shown that most of us, including our exclusively breastfed babies, need additional vitamin D. Some public health groups say this supplementation should start at birth, while others say it should start by two months. What's right?

Here's the scoop: we are designed to manufacture our own vitamin D in our skin by exposure to sunlight, not to get it form food, and throughout most of human history that worked fine. But getting enough sun on our skins has gotten tougher. The thinning ozone layer makes sun exposure so potent that people tend to use sunscreen generously when they're outdoors. Modern lifestyles mean most of us spend most of our time indoors. Some women who are covered for religious reasons may protect even their faces from the sun. Adequate vitamin D isn't made form sunlight above certain latitudes in the winter. And people with dark skin need even more time outside to acquire enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D helps us absorb and use calcium properly and keep our immune system strong, which may be why so many folks in cooler climates are susceptible to colds and flu during winter, when the sun is low. And we're learning that too little vitamin D may put us at higher risk of such problems as diabetes and cancer before we see such obvious problems as rickets.

It isn't possible to get too much vitamin D from sunlight. It is possible to get too much through supplements and enriched foods, but it turns out we've been too cautious with supplements in the past. The first and best way to get more vitamin D into your baby is to expose her to more sunshine, but in ways that minimize the chance of sunburn. Here are some ideas: If you carry your baby in a car seat, there's no need to throw a blanket over the whole thing unless it's a really cold winter day. Run errands with your baby - all that dashing in and out of stores, babe in arms, contributes to her vitamin D supply for the week. Use sunscreen very sparingly until your baby is six months old and then only if his exposure will be prolonged. If your baby is dark-skinned, his need for sunscreen is even less.

Talk to your doctor about increasing the level of vitamin D in your milk by taking a vitamin D supplement yourself. Recent research suggests 4,000 IU per day may be the amount needed to get enough into your milk. Discuss your particular situation with the doctor to decide if your baby needs vitamin D supplementation, look for a brand of drops that is only vitamin D. You can put the drops on your nipple and let the baby nurse them off."


  1. Great post! I hadn't heard some of that info and suggestions before. Very timely for us! Thank goodness we live in a frequently-sunny climate!

  2. This is really awesome. You took so much time to write this all out. I learned a few new things, too!

  3. Interesting. Thanks for sharing.