Vitamin D for babies and breastfeeding mothers

Dr Sophie Niedermaier

The days are still quite short and dark which limits all the nice time we spend outside, taking a stroll in the park, going to the seaside or just being lazy on the balcony. With the decreased amount of sunlight exposure our body produces less Vitamin D, also known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin, as the active vitamin is produced in our skin after exposure to sun light.

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the metabolism of our cells. It is not only important for strong bone growth but also helps strengthening the immune system and enhancing learning and memory by interacting with at least 900 different genes. This explains, why sufficient Vitamin D levels are so important for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers as well as for their babies.

A lot of factors influence the Vitamin D levels in our blood: Babies who were born in the winter or who don’t spend much time outside are at risk for low Vitamin D levels. So are mothers with darker skin types and who wear concealing clothing. The use of sun creams also reduces Vitamin D levels, as do obesity and gestational diabetes.

There are different ways to ensure adequate Vitamin D levels:

A breastfeeding mother should have an intake of 10 micrograms (400 units) of Vitamin D per day. This equals 1 serving of (wild) salmon, 2 servings of canned tuna or 10 egg yolks. The main source of Vitamin D is UVB exposure. The required sunlight exposure for breastfeeding mothers is 2 hours if only the face is exposed or 30 minutes if face, arms and neck are exposed.

The easiest option to guarantee adequate Vitamin D levels is for mother and baby to take a supplement. Breastfed babies should get a supplementary 8.5 to 10 microgram (340 to 400 units) of Vitamin D per day. This equals one drop per day of an infant supplement. Infant formula is enriched with Vitamin D and as long as a baby drinks more than 500 ml of formula per day, she or he does not need to take an extra supplement.

It is also possible for a breastfeeding mother to increase her own Vitamin D levels so that she can pass on enough Vitamin D to her baby. In this case, her daily recommended intake goes up to 1000 to 1500 microgram (4000 to 6000 units) per day. This is 10-fold of what a typical breastfeeding supplement contains.