Vitamin D for Babies

September 5th, 2008

Rickets are back. Not in a big way, but enough to raise questions among doctors. Rickets are caused by vitamin D deficiency and were once considered the bane of children.  By the 1930s, however, the sickness was considered a thing of the past, with few children experiencing its symptoms.

Unfortunately, the disease made an unexpected comeback in the 1970s and ever since then, it has been a cause for concern among pediatricians and parents. The possible reasons why the disease has resurfaced are many. People are not getting as much sun as they used to, the modern diet is unhealthy. Not only that, but breast feeding has become more common, so more babies are getting their food from mothers with poor nutrition.

Vitamin D is important for maintaining the shape and strength of growing bones. Without it, a growing child may develop severe skeletal deformities. It also helps keep the calcium levels where they should be.  The human skin absorbs vitamin D from the ultraviolet rays of the sun . The nutrient is also found in some foods, like cow’s milk. Human milk is deficient in iron, vitamin K and vitamin D.

Doctors recommend 200-400 IU/day of vitamin D for infants but, the levels of concentration in the milk of African-American women is usually only 35 IU/L and 68 IU/L in white women.  Darker skin pigment makes it harder to absorb vitamin D from the sun, so deficiencies are more common in African-Americans.

When the mother takes supplements in order to enrich her milk, the vitamin levels do not rise enough to make up for the deficiency. Doctors recommend supplements for the infant, not the mother, as the best way to prevent  malnutrition.

Many parents remain unaware that their baby might need supplements with their breast milk. The common belief that breast milk is ‘the perfect food’ for babies, does not help to enlighten the public. Nor are pediatricians eager to point out the few drawbacks to breast feeding, thinking it will scare others into using the bottle instead of the breast.

Controversy about the amount of vitamin D a baby should get and where they should get it from is rife within the medical community. Some doctors advocate supplements, some don’t so there is no consensus about the most likely treatment. Concerned parents should talk to their babies’ doctor. The next best thing a nursing mother can do for her baby is to ask questions. The best thing is to eat well and get a little sunlight.

For happy, healthy babies use our parenting tips at Child N Parent.

By:  Stephanie Moore

Entry Filed under: Child Health

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