You might have taken prenatal supplements (especially those including folate) while you were pregnant. You might take a multivitamin regularly, anyway. But what about your little one? Are there vitamins baby needs that don’t come from breast milk or formula?
Newborns only consume breast milk or formula – they can’t eat fruits, veggies, whole grains, or any of the other foods that make up a complete diet for adults. Of course, their nutritional needs are also different from those of an adult. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing – breast milk (and formula, which is designed to mimic breast milk) typically provides all of the nutrients your little one needs for the first 6 months or so of life.
Vitamins Baby May Need
In most cases, then, your little one won’t need any supplements. However, there are certain circumstances under which you may need to boost your breast milk or formula with extra vitamins.
If your little one isn’t getting the correct nutrients and you’re breastfeeding, your doctor may recommend that you take vitamin supplements in order to pass them on to your baby through your breast milk. Your doctor may also recommend that you keep taking your prenatal vitamins while you breastfeed. If you’re using formula, your doctor may recommend that you add vitamin drops to the formula.
Maternal Nutritional Issues
Women on a vegan diet or women who have had gastric bypass surgery may not be able to provide all the vitamins and minerals a baby needs through their breast milk. If you are on a restrictive diet or have had gastric bypass, you’ll need to talk to your doctor about whether dietary supplements are right for you or for your baby.
For example, women on vegan or vegetarian diets are prone to vitamin B12 deficiency because B12 only comes from animal proteins. Since B12 is crucial for your baby’s development, your doctor may recommend a supplement to make sure your baby is getting enough. Vegan and vegetarian diets are also often low in DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is important for your baby’s neurological development. Your doctor may recommend that you either eat more DHA or take a supplement.
Infant Health Issues
If your little one was born prematurely or is consuming less breast milk or formula than other babies of a similar age, your doctor may recommend supplements to make sure that the baby is getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals.
During the transition from breast milk or formula to solid food, your little one will start to need a lot more iron. Iron-rich foods such as beans and fortified cereals may provide enough, but babies that don’t eat iron-rich foods and babies that were born prematurely may need an iron supplement. Check in regularly with your doctor to make sure your baby is getting enough iron.
Vitamin D And Breastfeeding
Humans get almost everything we need from what we eat. The only exception is vitamin D – we can get it from our food, but we can also produce it ourselves when we’re exposed to the sun.
Babies need vitamin D, too. Infant vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets, which causes the bones to become weak and soft. However, this is the only one of the vitamins baby can’t get through breast milk. Experts don’t recommend exposing your little to the sun for the first 6 months, which means that you may need to give the baby supplemental vitamin D if you’re breastfeeding.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should give your baby about 400 IU (international units) of liquid vitamin D every day until you wean or until the baby drinks at least 32 ounces of vitamin D-fortified formula per day. You’ll need to talk to your doctor to determine the exact dose – too much vitamin D is as dangerous as too little.
Most baby formula is fortified with vitamin D, so formula-fed babies generally don’t need a supplement. However, your doctor may recommend a supplement if your little one is consuming less than 32 ounces per day of vitamin D-fortified formula.
Once your little one has weaned, you’ll still need to make sure she’s getting enough vitamin D. That may come from fortified cow’s milk, eggs, oily fish, and other fortified foods. It can also come from playing outside. It takes about 10 minutes of sun exposure per day for a fair-skinned child to produce enough vitamin D. If your little one has darker skin, you may need to spend a few more minutes outside. That’s because darker skin takes longer to produce vitamin D.
Note that in order to produce vitamin D, your little one’s skin can’t be covered in sunscreen. You need about 10 minutes of unprotected outside time per day. The rest of the time, however, you’ll want to make sure your little one is protected with a baby-safe sunscreen. Their skin is sensitive and getting sunburned early in life seriously increases the risk of skin cancer down the road. Remember that experts recommend preventing sun exposure until the baby is at least 6 months old – you’ll need to provide vitamin D through supplements or formula until that point.
Whether you’re breastfeeding or using formula, you’re already providing most of the vitamins baby needs. The only exception is vitamin D – talk to your doctor about whether a supplement is right for your little one.
You should also consult your doctor if you’re breastfeeding and have a vitamin deficiency, have had gastric bypass surgery, or eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. In those cases, your breast milk may not provide complete nutrition and you may need to take additional supplements.
Through all of this, don’t forget your own nutritional needs – especially if you’re breastfeeding! Raising a newborn takes a lot of energy, so remember to take care of yourself, too!