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Do Breastfed Babies Need More Vitamin D?

breast milk

Breast Milk Lacks Vitamin D

Who knew Vitamin D was so controversial? Well, it’s not the vitamin itself that is causing controversy, but rather the notion that breastfed babies aren’t getting enough of it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children, including infants, get 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day. The catch is that experts say that it is impossible for babies to get that amount of vitamin D from breast milk alone, according to MyHealthNewsDaily and MSNBC.com.

Of course, people can also get vitamin D from sunlight, but the AAP advises that infants under six months should avoid direct sunlight exposure.

To ensure that breast-fed babies are getting enough vitamin D, the AAP recommends vitamin D supplements in the form of drops. But the problem is that most pediatricians don’t mention this — in part, because they’re afraid they’ll turn new moms off the idea of breastfeeding.

Only about 5 percent to 13 percent of breast-fed babies received vitamin D supplements between 2005 and 2007, according to a study published in April in the journal Pediatrics.

“We really want parents to breast-feed, and if we’re saying the breast milk really isn’t complete, that you need something extra, then that might be an inhibition to breast-feeding,” said Dr. Kenneth Feldman, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, who conducted the Pediatrics study. “So those folks who place a greater importance on having the breast-feeding itself…might elect not to do anything that would dissuade families from breast-feeding.”

Like my most moms, I thought breast milk contained all of the nutrients my baby needed. But apparently, that’s not the case.

“I think that the perception that ‘breast is best’ leaves people just giving the breast milk and thinking that there isn’t anything else that the breast milk might be missing,” said Dr. Joyce Lee, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Michigan.

Recent surveys indicate that fewer than half of pediatricians recommend vitamin D supplements to breast-fed babies.

Children who are severely deficient in vitamin D can develop rickets, a disorder in which the bones weaken which can lead to fractures and skeletal deformities. Vitamin D also helps boost immunity and might also help to prevent cancer and diabetes later in life. Without enough vitamin D there might also be an increased risk for osteoporosis later in life.

Isn’t it a bit paternalistic to keep this information from moms for fear they might not make the best decision? I doubt moms would use the vitamin D issue as a reason to stop breastfeeding.

Still, some of the commenters on the MSNBC.com story saw this news as a conspiracy by the formula companies to dissuade women from breastfeeding.

What do you think? Do you give your breastfed baby Vitamin D supplements?

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photo: wikimedia

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