My son was born with moderate jaundice, which I did learn was fairly common among newborn boys. I had planned on breastfeeding him, and the Dr let me know that while breast milk was best for babies, it would not have enough Vitamin D to help with my son’s deficiency. In fact, 9 out of 10 babies who are breastfed are not getting enough Vitamin D, as a liter of breast milk only holds 20-40 IUs of Vitamin D. From babies to adults, we should be receiving no less than 200 IUs. He told me to just give him enough indirect sunlight to help ease the jaundice symptoms. So I would make sure to stay near windows with plenty of sunshine so that he could soak up some sunrays and not be in danger of skin cancer. But now that we know even more about the dangers of sun exposure, I question if that could have been too dangerous as well.
Some claim that formula fed babies have an advantage in the vitamin department. Formula is specially made to include the vitamins that they need, including Vitamin D. But a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics is showing that even formula fed babies are not getting enough Vitamin D in their systems. It has become apparent that babies, whether breastfed or drinking formula, will need some sort of supplement to ensure they are receiving the 200-400 IUs of Vitamin D they should be getting daily.
So why does a baby need Vitamin D?
Studies show that babies who do not receive enough Vitamin D are susceptible to rickets (soft bones), respiratory infections, and chronic diseases like Type 1 Diabetes. More recently, they have found that babies with low levels of Vitamin D were more likely to have risk factors that contributed to heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, and low amounts of HDL, or “good” cholesterol. While the deficiency was more prominent in babies whose mothers were also Vitamin D deficient, babies whose mothers took prenatal vitamins in their 2nd and 3rd trimester had higher amounts of Vitamin D in their system (another great reason to pop those vitamins, moms!).
It only takes 15 minutes of sunlight for babies to receive their daily amount of Vitamin D. However, experts advise against unprotected sun exposure in babies less than 6 months old (babies that young should not wear sunscreen, as their skin is much too sensitive, and their bodies absorb more of the sunscreen’s chemicals since they are much smaller), and advise use of sunscreen after 6 months. Because of the dangers of unprotected sun exposure, there are too many good reasons to slap on the sunscreen. However, this doesn’t really allow our bodies and our baby’s bodies to absorb enough Vitamin D. That’s why mothers should be talking to their pediatricians about supplementing Vitamin D. They have drops available for infants, and capsules for older children and adults.
Is your baby getting enough Vitamin D? Most likely not. Talk with your pediatrician at your next well-baby check-up and see what you can do.