As a new mom, you experience a wide range of thoughts and emotions from the moment your baby enters (and becomes) your world. Breastfeeding can bring its share of initial challenges as you and your baby get comfortable with each other. One thing you shouldn’t have to worry about is whether your breastfed baby gets enough vitamin D. You often hear that breast milk is the “perfect food,” and, for the most part, that is true. The only thing missing? Vitamin D, a critical nutrient that is essential to support your baby’s rapid growth and development.*
Breast milk typically does not contain enough vitamin D for your little one. But the lack of vitamin D is in no way a reflection of the quality of your breast milk. It’s just difficult for breastfeeding mothers to get enough vitamin D through food and sun exposure alone to support adequate vitamin D levels in breast milk.
Until recently, the only way for breastfed babies to get enough vitamin D was by giving them daily vitamin D drops. But now, research has revealed another option. Let’s take a closer look at this vital nutrient.
Why does your baby need vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a power player nutrient. There isn’t an organ in the body that doesn’t benefit from vitamin D. For example, vitamin D aids in the normal process of bone breakdown and re-growth.* It also helps to enhance the body’s ability to absorb bone-building minerals like calcium and phosphorus.*
And that’s not all.
Vitamin D also functions as a hormone in the body. Hormones are substances made in one part of the body that travels to other parts to activate cells and tissues. Vitamin D plays a role in nerve signaling and muscle movement.* It also aids in immune health, and probably more processes still undiscovered.*
What are the best sources of vitamin D?
Cod liver oil, fatty fish, egg yolk, liver, and fortified orange juice or milk are the primary food sources of vitamin D. With so few vitamin D-rich foods available, it’s hard to meet your vitamin D needs from food alone.
There are two forms of vitamin D: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 comes from plant-based and fortified foods, while vitamin D3 comes from animal-based foods. Vitamin D3 is also the form that the body makes from sunlight exposure to the skin. Even in sunny climates, getting enough vitamin D to meet your needs from the sun is a challenge. Age, geographic location, sunscreen use, and environmental conditions all impact your ability to produce vitamin D from the sun.
Vitamin D supplements( in the form of vitamin D3) are often recommended to ensure adequate vitamin D levels. If you’re concerned about your vitamin D level, make sure you consult with your healthcare provider.
How much vitamin D does your baby need?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies (and children through adolescence) consume 10 mcg (400 IU) of vitamin D. For babies that are fully or partially breastfed, many pediatricians recommend starting daily vitamin D drops within a few days of birth.
Infant formula contains 10 mcg of vitamin D, so those who exclusively consume infant formula don’t have to worry about getting enough vitamin D.
How can you ensure your breastfed baby gets enough vitamin D?
You could try to increase your dietary intake, as noted above. However, most people do not consume enough food sources containing significant amounts of vitamin D to adequately raise vitamin D levels. This leaves two options for you to support your baby’s vitamin D needs: giving your baby vitamin D drops or taking a vitamin D supplement yourself.
Giving babies daily vitamin D drops (that contain 10 mcg) is a recommended practice by pediatricians. However, studies have revealed that only 15% of moms actually end up giving these drops consistently. Plus, vitamin D drops may contain artificial dyes and are often not palatable to the baby, even when included in pumped breast milk.
Recent research has revealed a simple, safe, and effective solution. According to a recent study, breastfeeding mothers who supplement themselves with 160 mg (6,400 IU) of vitamin D3 per day are able to provide enough vitamin D in their breast milk to support healthy vitamin D levels in their babies.* Blood vitamin D levels of babies whose mothers took the 160 mcg supplement were the same as babies given the 10 mcg drops. Many women continue to take a prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding, but most do not contain this higher dose of vitamin D.
Regardless of which method you choose – supplementing yourself or giving your baby drops – you can be sure that you are giving your baby enough vitamin D to support their development.* If you are having difficulty giving your baby vitamin D drops, talk with your healthcare provider about taking a 160 mcg vitamin D supplement yourself.