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?
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.
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?