A Daily Drop of Vitamin D

A new government report says that most American infants get too little vitamin D. This crucial vitamin helps build strong bones by aiding calcium absorption. Without enough D, a baby can develop soft, brittle bones, a condition called rickets. Rickets most commonly affects infants between 3 and 18 months of age.

But that’s just the bare bones of what vitamin D can do. This key vitamin also promotes the proper working of muscles, nerves, and the immune system. Because vitamin D is so vital to health, in November 2008 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doubled its recommendation for infants from 200 IU to 400 IU of vitamin D per day.

How We Get Vitamin D

Adults and older kids can eat their way to enough vitamin D by including in their diet fatty fish such as salmon; egg yolks; beef liver; and vitamin-D-fortified foods, such as milk, orange juice, and cereal.

Your body can also make D from as little as five minutes a day of sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. But people who avoid the sun, screen their skin with clothing or sunscreen, or spend winter in the northern half of the country should eat more vitamin D-rich food or take a supplement.

Special Problems for Breast-Fed and Formula-Fed Infants

Infants almost certainly need a vitamin D supplement, according to the AAP. That’s because most young babies can’t get enough D from either sunshine or food. To prevent the later development of skin cancer, babies younger than 6 months should stay out of direct sunlight. Older babies should wear protective clothing or sunscreen.

Breast milk, the ideal food for infants, provides very little vitamin D. Even formula, which is fortified with vitamin D, won’t provide enough D unless an infant consumes at least a quart per day. In the recent government study, only about one in three babies drank that much. So most infants, not just those who are nursing, should get a daily vitamin D supplement.

A Drop a Day’ll Do Ya

The AAP recommends starting your baby on daily vitamin D drops as early as the first week. The taste of drops containing only vitamins A, C, and D doesn’t bother most babies, though vitamins A and C are unnecessary for breast-fed babies. You could also use an over-the-counter preparation containing just vitamin D.

Squirt the dropper into the corner of your baby’s mouth toward the cheek. Keep giving the vitamin D drops until your child drinks 27-32 ounces of formula daily, or after the age of 12 months, consumes a quart of fortified regular milk each day.

Online Medical Reviewer: DeRosiers, Florence MD

Date Last Reviewed: 4/6/2010

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