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Vitamin D: advice for all age groups

Guidance explaining how to make sure you get enough vitamin D, with specific advice for parents of under 3s.

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Advice for parents of babies and infants

Vitamin D has a number of important functions and is needed to support bone and muscle health.

Our main source of vitamin D is sunlight. In Scotland, we only get enough of the right kind of sunlight for our bodies to make vitamin D between April and September. From October to March, we need to rely on dietary sources of vitamin D. Since vitamin D is found only in a small number of foods, it might be difficult to get enough from foods that naturally contain vitamin D and/or fortified foods alone.

Everyone, including children, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (10μg) of vitamin D particularly during the winter months (October – March). 

Some groups are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency and it is specifically recommended that they take a daily supplement all year round. These groups include:

  • all those who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • infants and children under 5 years old
  • people who have low or no exposure to the sun, for example those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, are housebound, confined indoors for long periods or live in an institution.
  • people from minority ethnic groups with dark skin such as those of African, African-Caribbean and south Asian origin, who require more sun exposure to make enough vitamin D

Advice to take vitamin D supplements is based on recommendations from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) who provide independent advice to government based on scientific evidence.

Healthy Start multivitamins

Healthy Start multivitamins contain vitamin D and are recommended for all pregnant women and are provided free for the duration of pregnancy. Ask your midwife, family nurse or health visitor about where you can get your free vitamins from locally. 

Pro Health Vitamin D3 drops

Vitamin D drops are available free for infants and children from birth until their 3rd birthday. Ask your midwife, family nurse or health visitor about where you can get your free vitamin D from locally.

Why babies need vitamin D drops

A new-born infants vitamin D level depends on their mother’s level during her pregnancy. Although mother’s level will be higher if a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D was taken for the duration of  pregnancy, it is still advised that all new born infants have additional vitamin D.  Also, as it is advised that infants are protected from the sun, this is another good reason why infants need additional vitamin D.

How much vitamin D to give an infant

The free vitamin D drops for babies contain the recommended daily dose of 10μg.

Remember if you have taken vitamin D in pregnancy you will have a few weeks before your babies stores are likely to be low so take your time and give your baby time to get used to taking them.

All infants who are breastfed or have breast milk and those breastfeeding are entitled to free vitamin D supplements.

Infants who are fed with both breast and infant formula milk

Infants fed both breast and formula milk, or formula milk only, shouldn't be given a vitamin D supplement until they're having less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, as infant formula is fortified with vitamin D.

Breast milk and vitamin D levels

Breast milk is the ideal food for babies but, just like the rest of the population; it is likely that the baby will need extra vitamin D as the issue is related to a lack of sunlight rather than the breast milk. Although formula milk has added vitamin D, breastfeeding improves the health of mothers and children and should remain the first choice.

Safety

  • Please check the expiry date on the vitamin D packaging or bottle and do not use if they are out of date. Vitamins will not be as effective after the expiry date.
  • Vitamin D drops should be given by following the instructions on the packaging and only given in the dose as instructed. 
  • Do not use if the seal on the bottle is broken or damaged.
  • Vitamin D drops should not be given to breastfed babies via a bottle with water or flavoured drinks or on a dummy.

Too much vitamin D may be harmful. For most people, 10 micrograms per day is enough and is safe:

  • adults and children over 11 should avoid daily high dose vitamin D supplements containing more than 100 micrograms (4000 IU)
  • children aged 1-10 should avoid supplements with more than 50 micrograms (2000 IU)
  • infants under 12 months should have no more than 25 micrograms a day (1000 IU)

 

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