Babies need vitamin D for healthy growth and development. Babies who are breastfed should get 400 IU (international units) per day.
Babies in northern communities (north of 55° latitude, which is about the level of Edmonton) or who have other risk factors (such as dark skin) should get 800 IU per day between October and April, when there is less sunlight.
Babies need vitamin D for healthy growth and development. It helps them build strong, healthy bones and teeth. Babies who don’t get enough vitamin D are said to have a deficiency. If the levels are low enough, they are at risk of getting rickets, a disease that affects the way bones grow and develop.
You can make sure your baby has enough vitamin D by giving a daily supplement (a dose of drops every day). This should start as soon as your baby is born.
How do we get vitamin D?
Vitamin D comes from different sources:
- Sunlight: Vitamin D is formed naturally when skin is exposed to sunlight. Because Canada is located so far north, sunlight isn’t enough at certain times of the year and in certain places. Also, sunscreen and clothing, which protect babies from the harmful effects of the sun, won’t allow vitamin D to be formed.
- Foods: Some foods—like salmon, tuna, and liver—are good sources of vitamin D.
- Vitamin supplement: For babies, it comes in liquid form and is given daily with a dropper. It’s important to give your baby a supplement that is meant for babies. Read the instructions carefully to be sure you give your baby the right amount. If you are unsure, talk to your pharmacist.
How do I know if my baby is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
Babies are most at risk of vitamin D deficiency if:
- They are breastfed.
- Their mothers don’t have enough vitamin D.
- They have darker skin.
- They live in northern communities.
All breastfed babies should get a daily supplement of vitamin D.
How much vitamin D should my baby receive?
- Babies who are breastfed should get 400 IU (international units) per day.
- Babies with risk factors should get 800 IU per day, when there is less sunlight.
If you aren’t sure about the right amount to give your baby, talk to your health care provider.
Why do breastfed babies need a vitamin D supplement?
Breast milk is the best food you can offer your growing baby. Even when your baby starts eating other foods, you can continue to breastfeed until 2 years of age and beyond.
But breast milk has only small amounts of vitamin D (4 to 40 IU per litre), which may not be enough to meet your baby’s needs. That’s why babies who are breastfed should receive a daily supplement of vitamin D from birth until they get enough from their diet.
If I am breastfeeding and I eat foods rich in vitamin D, do I still need to give my baby a supplement?
Yes. Although some foods are good sources of vitamin D, they won’t provide enough vitamin D to enrich your breast milk to the level your baby needs.
If you are breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about whether a supplement of 2000 IU/day is right for you.
Do babies who are formula-fed need extra vitamin D?
Since vitamin D is already added to infant formula, most full-term babies who are formula-fed don’t need a supplement. However, formula-fed babies with risk factors should receive a supplement of 400 IU/day when there is less sunlight to ensure they have enough vitamin D.
Should pregnant women take vitamin D supplements?
How much vitamin D you get while you’re pregnant will affect how much vitamin D your baby has at birth. A baby born to a mother who is vitamin D deficient is more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency.
You are more likely to be vitamin D deficient if:
- you don’t use products like milk and margarine, which are fortified with vitamin D.
- you do not have much exposure to the sun, or if your skin is covered much of the time.
- you do not take vitamin D supplements.
If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about whether a supplement of 2000 IU/day is right for you.