Does My Baby Need Vitamins?
A smiling baby warms our hearts; we want to provide the best care to help this little human develop into a happy, healthy child. We know that breast milk offers the best nourishment, complete with the proteins, immune protectors and vitamins the baby will need.
Yet, even this source is ALMOST perfect. Taking prenatal vitamins during and after pregnancy fortifies the milk, but added supplements will ensure your baby will meet her every nutritional need.
After birth, one concern is lack of B12 vitamin in breastfeeding mothers on a strict vegan diet (no fish, meat, poultry, eggs or dairy products). If vitamin B12 deficiency does develop in the breastfed infant, symptoms may be present as early as two to six months of age and would include vomiting, lethargy, anemia, failure to thrive, hypotonia (low muscle tone) and developmental delay.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends every newborn baby be injected with vitamin K to reduce the risk of hemorrhagic disease of the newborn. This is routinely delivered in every in-hospital birth, though if the baby is born at home, supplementation should be given as soon as possible.
The more serious and unfortunately common issue in newborns is vitamin D deficiency. This vitamin, the “sunshine vitamin,” can be generated in every human body by exposure to sunlight. However, in today’s society, exposure has become much less common, as both children and adults spend so much time indoors. There’s a balance here: too much sun can cause skin damage that may later result in skin cancers, yet sunblock actually prevents the sun’s rays from being able to make vitamin D. Inadequate vitamin D causes bone and tooth development issues, and in severe cases, causes the disease rickets. Another consideration is ethnicity: darker skin absorbs sunlight less well.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a daily intake of 400 IU/day of vitamin D for all infants beginning in the first few days of life. Human milk typically contains only 25 IU per liter. Vitamin D supplements can be purchased without prescription online or at a pharmacy or health food store. The Mayo Clinic recommends continuing supplementation until age one, when the child can be switched to fortified cow’s milk.
Iron is required to create the oxygen-carrying red cells of the blood. Human milk contains little iron, so infants who are exclusively breastfed may need iron supplements after age four months.
Fluoride helps with tooth development. Mississippi state law mandates all community water systems serving at least 2000 people implement fluoridation. However, if your family relies on well water, fluoride drops are necessary.
Mother’s milk provides almost all necessary vitamins and minerals. Baby formulas are all supplemented with the vitamins and minerals described above, although some come without iron. Ask your pediatrician about supplements, particularly if your child was born premature, has frequent infections, or has other special needs.
Philip L. Levin, M.D. is a Coast-based physician and writer. He is the author of numerous award-winning stories and poems, many nonfiction articles, and eight published books, including two children’s books.