What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient found naturally in some foods and produced in our skin in the presence of sunlight. It helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus and also is important for healthy bones, nerves, muscles and immune system function.
What are some sources vitamin D?
Vitamin D is found naturally in cod liver oil, liver, organ meats, egg yolk and oily fish. Most people do not consume enough of these foods to meet their daily requirement. That’s why many cereals and milk are fortified with extra vitamin D.
Another source of vitamin D is sunlight. During the summer, people who are outside with exposed skin in direct sunlight can meet their daily requirement.
Unfortunately for those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest, sunlight is not a reliable source of vitamin D.
What can happen if children don’t get not enought vitamin D?
Children that don’t have enough vitamin D in their body can develop a condition called rickets, or dry, brittle bones.
How do infants get vitamin D?
Infants get a small amount of vitamin D from their mothers during pregnancy and through nursing. But only a small amount of the vitamin is excreted in breast milk and is not enough for newborns.
Infant formula is fortified with vitamin D, but an infant would need to drink more than a liter of formula to get sufficient vitamin D.
Additionally infants can get vitamin from direct sunlight, but due to the risk of skin cancer, the American Academy of Pediatricians advises against exposure to direct sunlight in infants younger than 6 months. Consequently, sunlight is not a good source of vitamin D for babies.
What is the national recommendation for vitamin D supplementation?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine recommend vitamin D supplements for both breastfed and formula-fed infants. They suggest giving 400 international units of liquid vitamin D a day starting in the first weeks of life.
Your pediatric provider will likely prescribe vitamin D drops at one of your baby’s first visits. Give your baby one drop per day. This is the only supplementation recommended for infants. And the current recommendation is to continue supplementing all healthy infants, children and adolescents.
Ask your baby’s doctor about how vitamin D can help your new baby develop strong, healthy bones.
For more information about vitamin D:
- Vitamin D Fact Sheet; National Institute of Health
- Vitamin D Supplementation; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children, and Adolescents; American Academy of Pediatrics
Fourth-year medical student
OHSU School of Medicine
Carrie Phillipi, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital
Director, OHSU Mother-Baby Unit