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New study suggests that all babies may need Vitamin D supplementation to avoid deficiency

Covering baby in the sun is good for his skin's health, but what about Vitamin D? Can he get enough?
Covering baby in the sun is good for his skin's health, but what about Vitamin D? Can he get enough?
Photo courtesy of L. Radcliff

A controversy over the issue of Vitamin D supplementation in breastfed babies has been debated for many years. Vitamin D is essential for bone and muscle development and may be obtained through food consumption and through skin exposure to sunlight. Low levels of the vitamin may result in a condition known as rickets, or in bone and muscle weakness later in life. While rickets is currently rare, the concern is that several factors may be leading to a re-emergence of the disease. First, even though breast milk is considered the most nutritious and complete food source for the growing baby, with countless additional benefits to the baby's health, there may actually be a deficiency of Vitamin D in the breast milk of most women. The concern is that when a baby is exclusively breast milk fed, the mother's body may not have enough Vitamin D stores to provide adequate amounts of the vitamin in her milk to the baby, based on data which indicate that many mothers also have low levels. Additionally, there is a major public health effort to decrease the risk of skin cancer by encouraging people to limit their sunlight exposure, so this route of Vitamin D intake is also minimized.

Yesterday, a new study was released in the journal Pediatrics which highlights this controversy and presents a strong recommendation for Vitamin D supplementation. According to the new study, even babies who are formula fed with a vitamin D-enriched formula show clinically low levels of the vitamin in circulation. Those who are breast milk fed also usually have levels below the recommended amount. The data reveals that all babies may be at risk of deficiency, no matter what their feeding method is. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently recommends that all babies receive oral Vitamin D supplementation in the amount of 400 IU per day, whether they are breast or bottle fed.

In Fresno, there is a high ratio of sunny days throughout the year. The winter months, when there are prolonged episodes of fog, are the only periods of time when opportunities for direct sunlight exposure are reduced. For this reason, some parents and health care providers still feel that providing approximately 30 minutes of sunlight to the breastfed baby will be an adequate method of reaching normal Vitamin D levels. Others will want to follow the AAP's guidelines and begin supplementing their babies with Vitamin D. To clarify the issues and form a well-informed decision, it is best to discuss the matter with the baby's pediatrician, who would need to prescribe the supplementation if it is warranted.


  • Ted Hutchinson 5 years ago

    You may also like to read free online full text of this paper

    "Circulating 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels in Fully Breastfed
    Infants on Oral Vitamin D Supplementation"

    This shows, at latitude 32N, lactating mothers require Vitamin D3 supplement of 6400iu/daily in order to provide vitamin D replete breast milk to their baby.

    For babies to grow with sufficient Vitamin D3 to maximize bone mineral density 400iu/daily from one month old was used.

    GrassrootsHealth D Action offer postal 25(OH)D tests to enable mothers to ascertain if they have attained 58.8ng/ml = 149nmol/l that optimizes vitamin D3 flow in breast milk.

    There are now good reasons for suggesting that short non burning sunexposure is beneficial to immune function, irrespective of it's action in raising 25(OH)D levels and that only using supplements to raise 25(OH)D levels may not be sufficient, of itself, to lower MS incidence rates. See pubmed 20308557

  • Tess Johnson 5 years ago

    Thank you for posting your comment, Mr. Hutchinson. The information you have added is extremely valuable and much appreciated. The issue of brief sun exposure for the young infant is another important topic to discuss with one's health care provider, because as you mention, there may be multiple benefits from this practice. Once again, thank you.

  • Amy 5 years ago

    Thank you for emphasizing the benefits of sunlight. Why should I have to buy a bottle of vitamin D drops, when I can do better "nature's way," with natural sunglight for both me and my nursing child? I think the fear of skin cancer has led to an excessive fear of any sunglight with an increase in vitamin D deficiency in both children and adults.

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