Thursday, 26 November 2009

Your Baby And Vitamin D

This page is designed to answer questions about your baby and vitamin D, a subject which often causes confusion for parents.

PLEASE NOTE: The information given here is meant as a guide only and does not replace professional medical advice. You should always discuss your baby's nutritional needs (including possible vitamin supplementation) with your doctor.

How does my baby's body use vitamin D?
Vitamin D helps your baby's body absorb calcium, which is needed for the healthy development of strong bones and teeth. A deficiency of vitamin D can result in rickets, which affects the way bones develop and grow. The bones of a child with rickets are unable to sufficiently support his body weight, resulting in bowed legs.

How can I ensure my baby is getting enough vitamin D?
The answer to this question can vary greatly from one culture/country to another, which is why you might come across lots of conflicting advice on the subject.

The most important source of vitamin D is not food... it's sunlight! In fact, vitamin D isn't actually a vitamin at all, but is a steroid hormone that the body produces using UVB rays from the sun. Vitamin D deficiences in babies can arise if babies receive inadequate exposure to sunlight.

Other risk factors for vitamin D deficiency in babies include

darker pigmented skin
premature birth
vitamin D deficiency in a breastfeeding mother
lead exposure
offering babies low-calcium foods in place of breast milk

We are all used to protecting our babies from the sun - in fact, AAP guidelines say that babies under 6 months of age should not be exposed to the sun at all and that older babies should be fully protected with sunscreen... but then we discover that they NEED sunlight in order to make vitamin D! So how do we safely meet these needs?

Well, babies don't actually need a lot of sun to make vitamin D - in fact, casual sun exposure is enough. As this helpful article in Mothering Magazine advises...

"To make enough vitamin D, a baby in a diaper needs a total of only 30 minutes of sunlight a week-less than five minutes a day. Fully clothed and without a hat, a baby would need two hours of sunlight a week, or about 20 minutes a day. Medium to darker skin tones need a little more time in the sun."

And to allay parents' fears about exposing their babies to the sun WITHOUT sunscreen, Becky Saenz, MD, IBCLC, Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, points out...

"There is a vast difference between recommending that it's okay for baby to sit in the grocery buggy while mom puts the groceries into the car in the early morning or late afternoon, and recommending nude sunbathing at noon."

Clearly, the best approach is to use common sense - avoid taking your baby out unprotected during the hottest part of the day. Instead, make sure he gets a little sunshine before 10am or after 3pm.

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