Breastfed Babies Need Extra Vitamin D
Infants who receive all of their daily nourishment from breast milk should be given vitamin D supplements to prevent rickets, a bone-weakening childhood disease, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Quick Facts

  • Rickets is a childhood disorder involving softening and weakening of the bones, primarily caused by lack of vitamin D, calcium and/or phosphate.

  • Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for the normal development of healthy teeth and bones.

  • Vitamin D is also known as the "sunshine vitamin" because the body manufactures the vitamin after being exposed to sunshine. Ten to 15 minutes of sunshine 3 times weekly is adequate to produce the body’s requirement of vitamin D.

    Source: The National
    Institutes of Health  

  • The study, published in the April, 2003 issue of Pediatrics, recommends that exclusively breastfed infants receive multivitamin supplements containing 200 international units of Vitamin D beginning at 2 months of age. Parents should continue to give their babies these vitamins, available as over-the-counter liquid drops or tablets, until they are able to take at least 17 ounces daily of vitamin D-fortified milk, the AAP says in a
    new policy statement.

    The new recommendations also apply to:

    • Infants who aren’t breastfed but who don’t drink at least 17 ounces of fortified formula or milk daily.

    • Children who don’t drink that much fortified milk, who don’t get regular sunlight exposure or who don’t already take multiple vitamins with at least 200 international units of vitamin D.

    Breast is Still Best
    For all its benefits, breast milk has an Achilles’ heal: It contains small amounts of Vitamin D. This crucial vitamin helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for the normal development of healthy teeth and bones.

    But this shortcoming, remedied easily enough through the taking of a daily multivitamin supplement, is quickly overcome by breastfeeding’s many benefits—including documented proof that breastfed babies have fewer allergies, intestinal problems, ear infections and other common childhood problems than their formula-fed brethren.  They also have lower rates of diabetes and asthma, chronic illnesses that often persist into adulthood.     

    The AAP is quick to point out that its new policy is not intended to undermine the value of breastfeeding but to enhance the overall health of breastfed infants.

    “This [new policy] shouldn’t discourage breastfeeding,” said Nancy Krebs, M.D., chair of the AAP’s nutrition committee. “The good news is that more babies are being breastfed, and we need to be reminded what extra considerations need to go with breastfeeding to best support the health of breastfed infants.”

    Further Reading