Public health officials are increasingly concerned about continuing reports of infants who’ve developed rickets, a bone-softening disease that’s caused by inadequate vitamin D intake and limited exposure to sunlight, which helps the body produce the vitamin. Babies with darker skin are particularly at risk because their skin pigments reduce sunlight penetration. Though formulas contain vitamin D, a formula-fed baby could develop a deficiency if he’s not drinking at least 17 ounces each day. Breastfed infants are also at risk because human milk contains only small amounts of the vitamin. To prevent rickets, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently recommended giving all infants a supplement of vitamin D. Here’s how to keep your baby healthy.
Start supplementing before your baby is 2 months old. Begin by giving him at least 200 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day. Your pediatrician can help you determine the right time to begin supplementation; some nursing babies may need a month or two to adjust to breastfeeding before learning to accept a dropper. (A formula-fed baby only needs a supplement if he’s not drinking 17 ounces a day by 2 months.)
Though 200 IU per day is the recommended amount, vitamin D is currently only available in multivitamin drops that contain 400 IU of vitamin D per milliliter. Rest assured, there is no harm in giving 400 IU per day.
Avoid direct sun exposure. Even though sunlight can boost your baby’s vitamin D intake, it’s important that you protect her skin from ultraviolet light. There’s evidence now suggesting that the younger the age at which a child is first exposed to direct sunlight, the greater the risk of developing skin cancer later in life. The AAP recommends that infants younger than 6 months be kept out of direct sunlight and that older babies be protected with clothing and sunscreen.