FAQs: Is Vitamin D necessary for breastfed babies? (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of frequently asked questions I hear from parents in my practice. If you have an FAQ about children’s health, send it along!

Vitamin D: A buffness requirement

Is vitamin D supplementation really necessary for breastfed babies?

Vitamin D supplementation for breastfed newborns is a hot topic. Though it’s strongly recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, many parents understandably question the need for it. After all, isn’t breast milk nature’s perfect food? Aren’t we undermining breastfeeding promotion by saying mother’s milk is deficient in something? And, hey…if this is such a problem, how did the human race manage to get by without vitamin drops all these eons??

Let’s look at the issue from a number of angles and see what the fuss is all about. I’ll start with a basic Q & A and then go into more detail in future posts.

1) What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a steroid hormone. It belongs to the same chemical family as cholesterol, testosterone and estrogen, among many other compounds.

2) What does vitamin D do?

It was originally thought to only play a role in bone health, by helping the body absorb calcium. In recent years, though, vitamin D has been shown to play an important role in immune system functioning, both by heightening the body’s responses to invading bacteria and preventing the immune system from attacking normal tissues.

3) Where do we get vitamin D?

There are two major sources: sunlight and diet. Sunlight is the more efficient way to get vitamin D.

The good stuff

4) What happens if we don’t get enough?

Historically, the connection between lack of sunshine and rickets–soft, deformed bones–was made in the 19th century. (Pelvic bones shrunken and deformed by rickets were the cause of many deaths in childbirth in those days.) Later, a lack of vitamin D was identified as the cause of rickets. Osteoporosis, especially in women, also results from inadequate vitamin D. Recently, as vitamin D’s immune system role has become clearer, a lack of vitamin D has also been linked to a number of serious chronic conditions, such as Type 1 diabetes, systemic lupus erythematosis, and multiple sclerosis.

5) Why is there so much vitamin D deficiency these days?

It’s mainly due to decreased sun exposure and poor diet.

6) So why are breastfed babies at risk for vitamin D deficiency?

Many pregnant or lactating women don’t have enough vitamin D for their own bodies, let alone enough to build up their babies’ supply. A mother’s problem soon becomes her baby’s problem, too.

More to come…

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