Does my baby need extra vitamin D while breastfeeding?

There has been a lot of confusion around the subject of vitamin D, and many breastfeeding women wonder whether they need to give their baby a supplement of this vitamin.

In the UK, Public Health England recently updated the recommendations in 2016.

They state that ‘all adults and children over the age of one should consider taking a supplement of vitamin D of 10 micrograms’.

This supplement is particularly important in the autumn and winter months. 

If you are at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, it is important to consider taking a supplement all year round.

In the UK, Healthy Start maternal vitamins have a mixture of vitamins, including the ten micrograms of vitamin D recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. 

Public Health England also recommends that all breastfed babies from birth have a supplement of 8.5 to 10 micrograms per day of vitamin D. 

Seek guidance from your local health visitor, GP, or pharmacist.

Vitamin D is really important: it controls the amount of calcium and phosphate in your body, which are necessary for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles.

This vitamin also plays an essential role in various systems of the body.

So, where do we get vitamin D naturally?

Although it’s possible to obtain vitamin D from foods like oily fish, red meat, egg yolks, and fortified cereals as well as some other foods, it would be challenging to obtain your required daily recommendation by these sources alone.

The primary source comes from the action of sunlight on our skin, and this is where the problem lies.

The truth is that the whole of the UK population, along with other northern hemisphere countries all have a risk of low levels of Vitamin D because of the lack of sunlight, particularly in the autumn and winter months. 

Also, many of us live indoors quite a lot of the time.

Living indoors is an issue for babies too, and outside, we often tend to cover babies up to prevent exposure to the sun, as well as using sunscreen, which is also a factor.

If you and your baby have darker skin, it’s even less likely that the sunlight will be able to generate the amount of vitamin D that you need, so you are at further risk.

It’s possible that as a breastfeeding mother, you may be deficient in vitamin D.

If you didn’t eat enough foods containing vitamin D while pregnant or didn’t get enough sunlight, or if you didn’t take a supplement, all these are factors.

If your levels of vitamin D are depleted, this in turn, can have an effect on the stores of vitamin D in your baby’s body, as well as the vitamin D levels in your breastmilk.

The primary source of vitamin D, other than sunlight, comes from the stores that are laid down in your baby’s body before birth, as well as through breast milk.

Many women don’t know what their vitamin D levels are, so Public Health England has decided to recommend that additional vitamin D is given to all breastfed babies from birth, to ensure that everyone has adequate levels.

To reiterate, at-risk groups include pregnant and breastfeeding mothers as well as breastfed babies from birth, and babies and mothers who have darker skin.

It also includes those ladies who have a body mass index of over 30, as well as those who have gestational diabetes.

All should consider taking a supplement of vitamin D all year round, not just in the autumn and winter months.

You may be wondering about formula-fed babies.

Formula milk has vitamin D added, so if your baby is having at least 500ml of formula per day, then there isn’t a need for an added supplement.

However, if you are breastfeeding, and offering some formula too, (if less than 500ml), then a supplement will still be needed.

It’s necessary to understand that this vitamin D issue is mainly an issue around the lack of sunlight in the UK and northern hemisphere countries more than anything else, and the UK Government has taken these added precautions to protect everybody. 

Whichever country you live in, ensure that you are familiar with your country’s most up to date guidelines and recommendations.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022

References

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