Over the past few years, a wealth of research has uncovered the many benefits of vitamin D for adults, ranging from improving bone health to boosting the immune system and protecting against a variety of diseases. But is vitamin D safe—or even necessary—for children?
Vitamin D is naturally present in many foods, including fish and eggs, but the primary source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. Your body responds to sunlight by producing vitamin D in the skin. Many foods have also been fortified with vitamin D, including pasteurized milk and juices.
A number of studies in recent years have uncovered a vitamin D deficiency in children, including breastfed babies and infants eating solid foods. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), babies and infants should receive 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D daily. Ideally, this would come from healthy foods (breast milk) and natural sun exposure, but this might not always be possible. For one thing, sunscreen use is highly recommended to prevent dangerous sunburns, but sunscreen also inhibits the synthesis of vitamin D.
The AAP recommends supplementing breastfed babies with 400 IU vitamin D soon after birth, either in a multivitamin drop form or a vitamin A-C-D combination. Formula-fed infants and older children should take a vitamin D supplement if they consume less than four (8-ounce) bottles or cups of vitamin D-fortified formula or milk daily.
Although vitamin D deficiency is rare in developed countries, it can have serious consequences. Children who do not get enough vitamin D are at increased risk for rickets, a bone-softening disease that can cause the legs to become bowed and lead to poor growth. Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to stress fractures in the legs or feet during weight-bearing exercises like running.
- Vitamin D is usually in food but the primary source is from sunlight exposure.
- Babies should receive 400 international units of vitamin D daily.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vitamin D supplements soon after birth.
- Children who do not get enough vitamin D have a higher risk of developing rickets or stress fractures in the legs.