The importance of vitamin D

Written by kathryn walsh | 13/05/2017
The importance of vitamin D
Formula-fed babies receive more vitamin D than breastfed babies. (Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Growing from a tender baby into a climbing, racing toddler requires healthy food, plenty of rest and some help from a very important nutrient: vitamin D. "A baby is born with vitamin D they have gotten from their mother, but the amount varies and is related to how much vitamin D the mother has in her body," says Dr. Steven Abrams, professor of paediatrics at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. Until his diet is varied enough to get adequate vitamin D from nutritional sources, your baby will probably need supplementation.

Because babies are forming bones rapidly during the first year of life, they need enough vitamin D so that they can absorb the calcium in the diet and form strong bones.

Dr. Steven Abrams -- Professor of paediatrics, Dell Medical School, University of Texas

Vitamin D basics

"Vitamin D allows a baby or anyone else to absorb calcium from the diet," says Dr. Abrams. "Insufficient intake may place [a baby] at risk for a condition called rickets, in which weak bones lead to fractures and other bone problems." Rickets can also be passed along through genetics. Untreated, rickets can cause bone pain as well as stunted growth and development. That's a scary picture, but a baby who is nurtured and fed appropriately isn't at risk. Nutritional rickets is completely preventable.

Some babies are born with greater risk of vitamin D deficiency than others. Babies born to mothers who are obese or have dark skin are more likely to be deficient. Living in an area with little sunlight or having limited exposure to sunlight also puts mother and baby at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Baby's vitamin D needs

All UK health departments recommend that infants aged 6 months and older receive 7 to 8.5 micrograms, or about 300 international units (IU), of vitamin D per day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women may get some vitamin D from their diets, but are advised to take supplements of 10 micrograms per day.

UK health departments don't give specific guidelines for infants younger than 6 months; however, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all breastfed babies receive at least 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D a day starting just after birth. "Babies usually get only a small amount of vitamin D from breast milk," explains Dr. Abrams. "They usually get more from infant formulas, and older infants get some from foods they eat that have vitamin D added to them."

No matter your baby's age, your paediatrician should help you determine her exact intake needs.

Giving your baby vitamin D

On measurements

You'll often hear at least two forms of measurement used in relation to vitamin D: micrograms and international units, or IU. Just remember that one microgram equals 40 international units, so 10 micrograms equal 400 IU. Alternatively, to convert from IU to micrograms, multiply the amount in IU by 0.025, and to convert from micrograms to IU, divide the amount in micrograms by 0.025.

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