You’ve probably heard that vitamin D for babies and kids is important for their health. Often called the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and supports the development of healthy bones and teeth. Low vitamin D has also been linked to a number of illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, mental illness, cardiovascular disease, tumours, and diabetes.
The body produces vitamin D naturally in response to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. But most Canadians don't get enough sun exposure—particularly in the winter—to produce healthy levels of vitamin D. So, Health Canada recommends using both diet and supplements to make sure your kid is getting enough vitamin D.
Some foods, like salmon, canned tuna, mushrooms, broccoli, kale and spinach, contain vitamin D, while others, like milk and milk alternatives, are fortified with it. Research shows that kids who drink more milk tend to have higher vitamin D levels and the Canadian Paediatric Society says that fortified beverages can be adequate sources of vitamin D for kids if the child consumes enough on a daily basis. If your kid is drinking vitamin D fortified beverages at least once a day, their vitamin D levels are more likely to be in the healthy range.
When it comes to infants, baby formula contains vitamin D, however, the vitamin D levels in breastmilk are contingent on the mother’s vitamin D status, and most breastfed babies won’t get enough of the vitamin through breastmilk alone.
“While breastmilk is an excellent source of nutrition, it is very low in vitamin D,” says Ahuva Magder-Hershkop, a registered dietitian with Midtown Pediatrics in Toronto.
Although it's possible to get vitamin D naturally and from fortified foods, the reality is most people don't get enough, and will need to supplement.
Health Canada recommends 400 IU per day for breastfed infants less than 12 months of age, and 600 IU per day for kids and adults ages 1 to 70. These recommendations are well below the tolerable upper intake levels for each age bracket.
Since baby formula already contains vitamin D, formula-fed infants may not require a vitamin D supplement. Check with your healthcare provider since there is a slight risk of getting too much vitamin D, which can cause vitamin D toxicity, if a formula-fed infant is given an additional supplement.
“Lots of parents just hear a blanket statement about supplementing their infants with vitamin D without considering how they are planning on feeding and as with any vitamin, more isn't always better,” Magder-Hershkop explains. Check with your doctor about what you need to know about vitamin d for babies and kids in your family.
There are many different kinds of vitamin D supplements, including tablets, gummies, and drops, for parents to choose from.
“Drops are the easiest way to get kids to take vitamin D. Instead of a gummy or a pill, it's a tiny little drop formulated for specific ages,” says Magder-Hershkop.
Gummies are another good option if your toddler or older kid prefers them.
“For infants, I recommend parents place a drop on a pacifier and allow their child to suck it for at least 30 seconds,” Magder-Hershkop explains. If your baby doesn’t use a pacifier, you can place the drop on the breast while nursing, on the nipple of the baby’s bottle, or directly in their mouth.
For older kids it’s as simple as putting a drop under the tongue—a quick and easy thing to do that helps your kid stay healthy.
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