To ensure that your baby develops strong, healthy bones and teeth, he or she needs a good supply of calcium – and vitamin D is important in helping baby’s body to absorb calcium.
Without enough vitamin D your baby may be at risk of poor bone growth and strength, in a condition known as rickets – where the leg bones become bowed because they cannot support the body’s weight.
Vitamin D deficiency in your baby could result from any of the following:
- a premature birth
- darker skin pigmentation
- exposure to lead
- a deficiency of vitamin D in yourself if you are breastfeeding
- giving baby low-calcium foods instead of breast milk
The Sources of Vitamin D: Food and Sunlight.
Although there are certain foods that contain vitamin D, food is not the most important source – sunlight is! Vitamin D is not actually a vitamin as such; it is a steroid hormone that the body produces by using the sun’s UVB rays; without adequate exposure to sunlight, your baby could develop a vitamin D deficiency.
This, naturally, may cause you some concerns regarding the dangers of your baby having too much exposure to sunlight. However, not many foods contain vitamin D – and those that do, do not contain a great deal – so diet alone will probably not be enough for your baby’s vitamin D requirements.
If you are breastfeeding, it always a good idea to increase your own vitamin D intake, as some will be passed on to your baby via your breast milk – but remember that you need to eat at least 3 servings of oily fish a week to meet your own vitamin D requirements.
Vitamin D can be found in:
- fortified milk, cereals and orange juices (not recommended for babies under 1 year)
- egg yolk
- oily fish – salmon, tuna, mackerel (though avoid king mackerel)
- fish oils
- mushrooms (currently contain little vitamin D, but research indicates that brief exposure to UVB rays dramatically boosts vitamin D levels, potentially making mushrooms a rich source)
Exposing Your Baby to Sunlight…
According to AAP guidelines, babies under 6 months of age should not be exposed to the sun at all, and older babies should be fully protected with sunscreen. And other advice can be really confusing, as opinions vary from country to country, and between different cultures!
However, there is no doubt that your baby needs vitamin D and that exposure to sunlight is a key factor in maintaining the necessary levels. So to safely meet this need it is best to use your own common sense – don’t take your baby out unprotected during the hottest part of the day, but do make sure he or she gets a little sunshine either before 10am or after 3pm.