Does Your Baby Need Vitamin Supplements?
By Beth Weinhouse
Your pediatrician just prescribed vitamin drops for your new baby, but
your girlfriend's infant wasn't given any. Or perhaps it's vice versa.
Either way, you're confused. Does your baby need vitamins or doesn't
For the most part, healthy, full-term newborns receive all
the nutrients they need whether they're being nourished on breast milk
or prepared formula. But there are a few special considerations and
Some pediatricians are concerned that not all breastfed babies are
receiving adequate amounts of vitamin D. This nutrient is particularly
important in the first year of life to make sure bones are properly
calcified during this period of rapid growth. Besides being contained
in breastmilk, the vitamin is synthesized from sunlight. But many
infants today are protected from the elements; parents may keep them
covered up in the summertime, and indoors -- or at least bundled up --
"Pollution may also curtail a lot of the UV light needed to make
vitamin D," says Fima Lifschitz, M.D., chief of nutrition sciences at
Miami Children's Hospital and a member of the American Academy of
Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. "Even where sun is plentiful, babies
may not be exposed to sunlight as much as they should be." Dark-skinned
infants are especially at risk, since they do not absorb sunlight
through the skin as readily as fair-skinned children. For all these
reasons, many pediatricians recommend that nursing babies receive
vitamin drops containing vitamin D. (These drops usually also contain
vitamins A and C, two other vitamins that may occasionally be lacking
in breastfed infants.) Since prepared infant formulas are fortified
with these vitamins, additional drops aren't necessary.
Babies are born with enough stores of iron to last for four to six
months... which is about the time they begin eating solid foods. While
some pediatricians will recommend iron supplements or formula with iron
early, many doctors wait until a child is close to six months of age.
Because many children don't eat ideal diets, at that point physicians
may recommend iron-enriched cereal, iron-enriched formula, or vitamin
drops with iron. "Iron deficiency can have long-term consequences for
children," says Dr. Lifschitz. "It can interfere with normal
This mineral is essential to the formation of strong, healthy teeth
since it helps form tooth enamel which prevents decay. Fluoride is
found naturally in foods like vegetables and grains, and is added to
drinking water in some water supplies. But if your town doesn't have
fluoridated drinking water, your baby should be given a liquid fluoride
supplement to take each day. Since toothpaste also contains fluoride,
be sure to use only a small pea-size amount when brushing your baby's
teeth since too much of the mineral can actually damage the teeth.
Experts stress that the above recommendations are for healthy,
full-term babies. Low-birthweight babies or those born prematurely, as
well as babies with certain medical conditions and illnesses, will have
special nutritional requirements. As always, never give any supplements
to your child without first discussing them with your pediatrician.