Vitamin D for babies

As a parent, you want to make sure your little one is getting proper nourishment and nutrition. That includes vitamin D, a very important nutrient for babies. As breast milk alone doesn’t provide enough vitamin D for babies, breastfed infants and those who are partially breastfed will need vitamin D supplementation to help boost immunity, build healthy and strong bones, and prevent diseases like rickets. We’ve got all the details on the benefits of vitamin D for babies and how much your newborn needs.

What Does Vitamin D Do for Babies?

Vitamin D is essential for babies (as well as for older children and adults) because it helps the body absorb calcium. Working together, calcium and vitamin D build bones and help keep them strong and healthy.

When babies do not get a sufficient amount of vitamin D, they could potentially develop rickets, a rare disease that involves softening and weakening of the bones.

In addition, vitamin D has a role in fighting infection and maintaining a healthy heart, contributing to strengthening the immune system and decreasing the risk of chronic disease.

Risks for Babies Who Lack Enough Vitamin D

When babies lack enough vitamin D, one potential consequence is weakened or softened bones. This can make a baby’s legs appear curved or bowed. Keep in mind that bowlegs are actually common in babies and toddlers but that this condition usually corrects itself before the age of 2. Bowlegs in babies and young toddlers is within the range of normal development and thought to be related to the tightly curled up position of babies in the uterus.

However, there are symptoms and conditions, including rickets, that can result from extreme vitamin D deficiency, and can hinder your child’s physical development. These may include:

  • extreme curvature in the legs

  • one leg curving more than the other

  • bowlegs becoming worse after 2 years of age

  • knock-knees after 7 years of age

  • short height

  • seizures

  • difficulty breathing.

Additionally, researchers have found correlations between vitamin D deficiency and certain diseases and conditions that could occur as babies get older and reach childhood or adulthood, such as

  • colon, breast, or prostate cancers

  • hypertension

  • diabetes

  • allergies

  • asthma

  • respiratory and viral infections

  • autoimmune conditions, including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Although these diseases and complications sound scary, remember that they are rare. With the right supplementation, your baby will get the necessary nutrients to stay strong and healthy! If you have any questions or concerns, consult your child’s healthcare provider.

How Much Vitamin D Is Necessary for Babies?

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine recommend a daily intake of 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D for babies within the first year. For babies older than 1 year, the amount increases to 600 IU per day. To determine whether your baby is getting enough vitamin D, consider the following:

  • Breastfed babies and partially breastfed babies will not get enough vitamin D from breast milk alone, so supplementing with liquid vitamin D (drops) is necessary and important.

  • Formula-fed babies are likely to get a good amount of vitamin D from their formula, as most brands are fortified with vitamin D. Check the label of your formula and consult your child’s healthcare provider. However, to get the full recommended amount of vitamin D, babies will need to consume 32 ounces of fortified formula a day. Most newborns and many young babies won’t drink this much, so supplementation with vitamin D drops is probably necessary. Check with your provider to be sure.

It’s also important to keep in mind that every baby is different. Some babies may require more vitamin D, including those with the following conditions:

  • obesity

  • bone pain

  • fractures

  • celiac disease

  • cystic fibrosis

  • have had recent surgery

  • are taking medications that block the absorption of vitamin D.

To determine the appropriate amount of liquid vitamin D (vitamin D drops) to give your little one, consult the chart below and your child’s healthcare provider.

Sources of Vitamin D

There are various ways to get vitamin D into your body. It’s more difficult for babies to obtain vitamin D naturally, which is why supplementation is the best option. Sources of vitamin D include the following:

  • Sunshine. Our bodies naturally manufacture this vitamin when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Because there are dangers associated with direct exposure to sun, especially for babies, sun exposure is not an optimal source of vitamin D for your child. Young infants are recommended to be kept out of direct sun as much as possible, and to wear sunscreen and protective clothing when they are exposed, to protect them from skin damage and skin cancer.

  • Breast milk and formula. Breast milk does have some vitamin D and provides nearly every other vitamin your baby needs, especially C, E, and B vitamins, but it doesn’t have enough vitamin D to ensure healthy bones and ward off diseases like rickets. Infant formula is nearly always fortified with a good amount of vitamin D (about 400 IU per liter); this could be a sufficient source if a baby consumes at least 32 ounces a day.

  • Solid food. Although some solid foods provide vitamin D, this won’t be a helpful source of the nutrient for newborns or young babies, who won’t be able to have solids until they are about 6 months old.

  • Supplements. The best way for babies to get the recommended amount of this nutrient every day is with liquid supplements. Vitamin D drops can ensure that babies younger than 1 are getting 400 IU a day and babies older than 1 are getting 600 IU.

How to Use Vitamin D Drops for Your Baby

Of course, it isn’t possible or safe for your baby to swallow a pill for vitamin D! Instead, your baby will get a liquid version of this nutrient. Using vitamin D drops for newborn babies is quite simple—all you need is the liquid supplement and the dropper that comes with it. Here’s what to do:

  1. Read the directions carefully. Always start by reviewing the amount of vitamin D to give your baby and following the directions on how to measure and administer the appropriate dose. Be sure not to exceed the recommended dose.

  2. Release the liquid into your baby’s mouth. To administer vitamin D drops for your baby, release the liquid onto the tongue or sides of the mouth. Don’t put the drops into your baby’s throat—this could cause discomfort and even lead to coughing or choking.

Vitamin D drops are handy for wriggly babies, and particularly helpful when caring for premature babies or fussy teething babies.

For How Long Do Babies Need Vitamin D Drops?

Your baby can start taking vitamin D drops soon after birth. Most likely, your child’s healthcare provider will prescribe the standard amount, which is 400 IU daily of vitamin D for babies under 1 year, and 600 IU daily for those over 1 year. But once your baby can start getting vitamin D from other food sources (like salmon, egg yolks, and fortified foods), you may be able to reduce the amount they receive by drops.

Every newborn, baby, and child are different, so although there is a recommended dose of vitamin D for babies, it’s always best to check with your child’s healthcare provider. Most babies need the standard dose, while others may need more, and some may need to supplement for longer than others.

The Bottom Line

Babies need adequate vitamin D to stay healthy and build strong bones. Breast milk lacks enough vitamin D for babies, and babies may not be able to consume enough vitamin D fortified formula to reach the optimal amount of this nutrient. The best solution is to supplement with vitamin D drops, which are easy for you to administer and for your baby to swallow.

Although the daily recommended amount of vitamin D is 400 IU in your baby’s first year, every child is different. Talk to your baby’s healthcare provider to determine the amount of vitamin D supplement your little one needs.

Learn more about how your baby may develop over the first 24 months of life!