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A guide to vitamin D for babies

Little blonde girl sitting in sunny window with teddy bear
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If you’re an expectant or new parent, it’s important to make sure your baby is getting all the nutrients they need. For young babies, breast milk is a great source of essential nutrients, however there are a couple of supplements they’ll need as well, including vitamin D.

Why do babies need vitamin D?

Babies need vitamin D for the same reason adults do. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies. Both of these are important for keeping the bones, teeth, and muscles healthy.

The best way for adults to get vitamin D is through sun exposure. Between March and October we can spend time outside in the sun – this generates vitamin D. Unfortunately, young babies can’t get vitamin D through sun exposure because their skin is too sensitive and has to be shielded from UV rays. Read our baby suncare guide for tips to keep them safe in the sun.

How much vitamin D do babies need?

How much vitamin D your baby needs will depend on their age and whether they’re fed breast milk or formula milk.

  • Breastfed babies under one year need a daily vitamin D supplement of 8.5 to 10 micrograms (mcg). You should give your baby this supplement even if mum is also taking vitamin D
  • Children aged between one and four need a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms (mcg)
  • Babies fed on more than 500ml of formula milk, because formula is already fortified with vitamin D and other essential nutrients

In total, babies under one year shouldn’t have more than 25 micrograms of vitamin D each day. Children aged between one and 10 shouldn’t have more than 50 micrograms each day.

Where can babies get vitamin D?

For babies, there are two main sources of vitamin D:

  • Formula milk, which is always fortified with vitamin D
  • Vitamin D supplements, normally as vitamin drops

Vitamin D drops

Vitamin D for babies normally comes in liquid form with a dropper. You can use the dropper to put the recommended amount straight into your baby’s mouth, or alternatively, you can add it to your baby’s milk.

The NHS recommends that babies have a daily dose of vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as D, so you might find it easiest to buy multivitamin drops containing all three.

What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in babies?

Vitamin D deficiency in children can lead to rickets. This is a condition where the bones become soft and weak. It can cause bone deformities, pain, problems with the teeth, and poor growth and development.

You can read about the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in adults here.

Can babies get vitamin D from sunlight?

The NHS recommends that babies under six months be kept out of direct sunlight. This is because, when babies are very little, their skin doesn’t contain enough melanin to protect it from the sun.

Older babies can have a little more sun, but should still be kept in the shade as much as possible. Baby skin needs sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. It’s also a good idea to attach a sunshade or parasol to your baby’s pushchair when you take them out.

Do prenatal vitamins for mothers contain enough vitamin D for babies?

Taking vitamin D before birth will keep mum and baby healthy during pregnancy, however they won’t continue to have an effect after birth. Even if you’ve been taking vitamin D consistently, you’ll still need to give your new baby vitamin D every day – either in formula milk, or as a supplement.

Do adults need vitamin D supplements?

It’s safe for adults to get vitamin D through sun exposure, however this is much harder to do in late autumn, winter, and early spring. To counteract the lack of sun, the NHS recommends that adults take 10 mcg of vitamin D each day between October and March.

Vitamin D for adults normally comes as a single tablet, taken daily.

Where can I get vitamin D supplements?

You can find vitamin supplements for your whole family in your local LloydsPharmacy, or by browsing our online shop.

Some new mothers will also be eligible for free vitamins as part of the NHS Healthy Start scheme – visit this page to find out more.

References

www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d
www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/first-aid-and-safety/safety/safety-in-the-sun
www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/weaning-and-feeding/vitamins-for-children
www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/vitamins-supplements-and-nutrition