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We have been told by various people that babies need vitamin supplements, because "My doctor said so." This seems counterintuitive. Shouldn't formula or breastmilk have all of the nutrients that a baby needs?

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Would you mind if we made this question more general (as in, for both formula and breastfed babies?) I would like to know if they are necessary for breastfed babies as well, but i feel like writing a second question would be too repetitive. –  Sarato Oct 15 '11 at 16:06
    
@Sarato: I wouldn't mind at all. –  JustinY Oct 15 '11 at 16:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

In most cases, breast milk or formula provides just about everything a baby needs for the first four to six months. The exception is vitamin D, which is recommended as a supplement for breastfed babies and babies who drink less than 32 ounces of formula per day per The Baby Center.

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I've heard from numerous sources (doctor, books, websites, etc.) that breastfed babies require iron for a while too. Did you deliberately exclude this or have you not heard it before? –  William Grobman Oct 16 '11 at 14:44
1  
@WilliamGrobman I haven't heard that babies require additional iron. But I concur about vitamin D -- the nurses and the pediatrician recommended vitamin D supplements until the first birthday. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 16 '11 at 17:23
    
@WilliamGrobman Breastfed babies do deplete their supply of iron at around 6 months of age and iron supplements are usually introduced then if needed. However, my response was limited by the question about newborns. :) –  Marie Hendrix Oct 16 '11 at 19:35
    
@MarieHendrix that's interesting! I'm sure you know what you're talking about. Personally, I thought it was odd that our pediatrician suggested all breast fed babied take iron from birth. Because of the 6mo depletion my wife and I'll make sure our son (5.5mo) keeps taking them then. +1 Good answer. –  William Grobman Oct 17 '11 at 14:25

I'll start off by saying this answer isn't complete, and addresses breastmilk rather than formula. Most breastfeeding advocates are reluctant to say that breastfed babies need any additional supplements, claiming that breastmilk was designed to be the only thing a baby ate, and that if babies needed more of a certain vitamin, then breastmilk would have more of that vitamin. Kellymom makes a good summary of the anti-supplement arguments.

Here is what I've found:

  • A severe lack of vitamin D can cause rickets, which is a condition most common in children from 3 months to 15 months.
  • People (including babies) are spending less time in the sun, leading to more cases of vitamin D deficiency.
  • Vitamin D is better absorbed through the skin than through the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Kellymom sites a study that I can't find, saying that for Caucasian babies, less than 5 minutes of day in a diaper in the sun produces enough vitamin D, while for darker skinned babies, that number could be 3 to 6 times higher. (However, the AAP says that since the amount of sun is dependent on so many different variables, there is no way to say how much is enough.)

Here is what I haven't found:

  • How much sun exposure is dangerous to babies?
  • How much sun is needed for non-Caucasian babies to produce vitamin D? (I've seen numbers ranging from 3 to 10 times as much as Caucasian babies.)
  • Most importantly, can a baby get enough sun to make vitamin D without increasing their risk for skin cancer later in life?
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