Health authorities and many new mothers believe in the superiority of breastfeeding babies, to ensure they get optimal nutrition early in life. Health officials recommend exclusive breastfeeding of babies for the first six months. But this may not be enough to give a baby all the required nutrients at these formative stages in life. A new study published recently in a special edition of an American Medical Association Journal has found that babies fed exclusively on breast milk require supplementation with vitamin D. 

Sun Exposure is not the Solution for Babies

Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. When exposed to the sun, our skin manufactures vitamin D. Just exposing a baby to the sun can result in the infant’s skin making enough vitamin D. But infants require more vitamin D than they get from their regular diet well before they are ready to be exposed to the sun. Children will usually be exposed to the sun when they reach six months of age. And even when kids begin to be out in the sun, their skin is usually protected with a sunscreen. Concerns about getting too much sun outweigh the benefits of a baby’s skin manufacturing Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for the skeletal integrity of the infant. Research shows that babies who take enough vitamin D the first 12 months of their life, have more muscle mass and less fat when they are 3 years old. Human breast milk is not a sufficient source of vitamin D for infants. This is because moms most of the times do not take enough vitamin D from their own diet.

Supplementation is Essential

Experts recommend a daily supplementation of 400IU of the sunshine vitamin for babies during their first year of life. Sadly, only a low percentage of babies who are breast-fed are also given the all-important vitamin D supplementation. Another study found that most mothers breastfeeding their babies were not willing to give their infants the vitamin D supplements. Most of the mothers in the study cited concerns about the safety of the supplementation, as the main reason for their reluctance to give their babies the oral vitamin D. 

For mothers concerned about the safety of supplements for a young child, increasing the amount of vitamin D in breast milk can be an acceptable alternative. A mother can increase the vitamin D in her breast milk by having sufficient levels herself. She can achieve this by more exposure to the sun. Mothers of a dark pigmentation should know they will require more hours in the sun to achieve optimal levels of vitamin D than their lighter skinned counterparts. As well, a mother can herself take vitamin D supplements. The recommended level of supplementation is approximately 6400 IU per day. This way, with the mother being sufficient in Vitamin D, her infant will get adequate quantities in breast milk.

Pediatricians are reporting increasing cases of rickets in children. This disease indicates vitamin D deficiency. These gaps are more common in breastfed babies, or babies who are partially formula fed. Babies who are wholly formula fed do not show signs of vitamin D deficiency because government regulation requires that adequate vitamin D be included in formula food. For any new mother, the evidence is in. Your baby requires adequate levels of vitamin D, which is not always available from breast milk.