Editors Note: This article is based on the author’s personal experience and should not be used in place of medical advice. Please talk to your family care provider before making any medical decisions.
“And are you giving your baby her Vitamin D drops every day?”
The physician’s assistant would ask me this each time I dragged my lumpy postpartum self into the pediatrician’s office with my newborn. She’d pause on her checklist of medical dos and don’ts for new parents and look at me expectantly.
“Oh yes, of course,” I’d respond, nodding and shifting the baby to my other arm when my bicep started to burn.
But I was a big, fat, leaking liar. Because I never gave any of my babies those “suggested” Vitamin D drops. And honestly? I don’t plan to.
Vitamin D supplementation wasn’t really a “thing” with my first two children, but it was all the rage with my last two kiddos, who are now 3 and 1. Supposedly, breast milk contains an inadequate level of Vitamin D for babies, and pediatricians were actually concerned about the risk of rickets in babies (which seems so old-school but apparently, can still happen). To combat any risk of rickets, pediatricians started giving out samples of Vitamin D you were supposed to give your baby every single day if you exclusively breastfed. Formula typically has enough Vitamin D added to it, so babies who are formula-fed or breast-fed but have regular formula supplementation won’t need the additional drops.
I dutifully took my little Vitamin D supplementation drops home with me from our first pediatrician’s office and considered giving them to my baby, I swear. But when I looked at the syringe, I felt a swift wave of exhaustion hit me at adding yet another thing to remember in my mushy postpartum brain. But more importantly, I realized that I didn’t feel comfortable giving my baby those drops, either.
A quick scan of the ingredients in the drops I received for free in the office revealed things that I was trying to avoid introducing to my baby:
- Artificial flavor
- Caramel color
- Sodium citrate
- Polysorbate 80
And I know those ingredients might not sound like that big of a deal in such a small dosage, but when every moment of every day for months is consumed with breastfeeding your baby and not letting a drop of anything else touch her lips, it’s not an easy thing to just suddenly introduce “caramel color” into your baby’s system and tell yourself it’s all good.
I know I’m not the only mother who had a little trouble swallowing the Vitamin D drop recommendations, either. When Katie, a mom of two boys, aged 3 and 1, was advised by her son’s pediatrician to give him the drops, she recalls that she “dutifully” took home the sample and gave her baby his first taste of something other than breast milk.
“He looked at me with surprise,” Katie explains. But a bit later, she noticed that her son seemed cranky and not like his normal, happy self. Katie wondered if she was imagining things, but took a look at the ingredients on the back of the sample, just to ease her mind.
“I discovered that it contained artificial caramel color,” she says. “Here I was, downing almond milk and kale smoothies to produce the finest breast milk I could, and I had just given my baby his first ‘food’ and it contained artificial caramel color? This didn’t sit right with me.”
I felt the same exact way, and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t bring myself to willingly give my baby ingredients it felt like I was trying so hard to avoid. And when I looked a little closer at the studies, I found that it takes as little as five minutes of sun exposure a day, even with sunscreen, to synthesize the amounts of Vitamin D that adults need.
So I compromised and made it a point to get outside in small amounts (because babies can’t have sun screen either, guys) and figured that humans were meant to get some kind of sun exposure and it would all balance itself out.
Turns out, Katie did the same.
“I am a natural rule follower, but I fell back on two justifications for not doing the drops: number 1 had turned out OK sans drops, and we live in sunny Los Angeles and spend time outside almost every day,” she explains.
The point is, I think because of a small population of babies at risk for rickets from lack of Vitamin D, pediatricians are pushing drops for all just in case (which is an important goal because it’s probably not going to hurt your baby to have extra Vitamin D). But in my case, it was just another instance of mama guilt at work. I didn’t give those drops because I felt, deep down in that place where mama instincts live, that it wasn’t the best choice for my family. And I’m glad I honored that instinct.
Assuming, of course, that my children do not in fact, actually have rickets.