Vitamin D and 10 Other Vitamins All Infants Need
You hear plenty about which vitamins children and adults need, but infants have special nutritional needs, especially for vitamin D. Here’s the latest on vitamin D and 10 other vitamins all infants need.
What’s special about vitamin D for infants?
During the first four to six months of an infant’s life, breastfeeding or use of formula meets nearly all the nutritional requirements of the child, with the exception of vitamin D. Naturally, there may be special cases.
For example, infants who have chronic health issues that affect metabolism or the ability to assimilate nutrients may need specific supplements. Infants born prematurely, who have a low birth weight, or who don’t consume enough formula or breast milk also may need additional supplementation.
Generally, however, vitamin D is the one vitamin that should be supplemented beginning soon after birth to help support bone health, especially since bones grow rapidly during the first year of life. In addition, breast milk does not contain sufficient levels of vitamin D, and infants fed less than 32 ounces of formula daily also need the supplement.
Much of vitamin D is produced by the body from sunlight exposure, but infants should not be exposed to ultraviolet rays without proper protection because they have delicate skin.
In a new study, investigators at McGill University have determined that infants need 400 International Units (IUs) per day during the first 12 months of life, and that higher doses provide no advantage for bone health. The National Institutes of Health has identified 300 IU for infants 0 to 6 months and 400 IU for those 7 to 12 months.
After the first four to six months, most mothers gradually switch their infants from an all-liquid diet to more and more solid foods, although breastfeeding is recommended for up to one year. As infants make the change to more solid foods, they may or may not need supplements, depending on whether they are still receiving any breast milk and which foods they are eating.
Infant foods typically are fortified with vitamins and minerals, so it’s important to read the labels when buying infant food. Whether infants need any vitamin supplements is a decision mothers need to discuss with their doctors.
Other vitamins all infants need
To give you an idea of how much vitamins infants need during their first year of life, here are the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) and Adequate Intake (AI) reported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Academy of Sciences. An AI value is assigned to a nutrient when there is not enough scientific evidence to establish the requirements for a specific nutrient.
- Vitamin A is essential for vision, reproduction, and the immune system, as well as proper function of the heart, kidneys, lungs, and other organs. Infants 0-6 months: 400 micrograms; 7-12 months, 500 micrograms
- Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage, aids in the absorption of iron, and boosts the immune system. Infants 0-6 months: 40 mg; 7-12 months, 50 mg.
- Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage and also supports the immune system to fight infections. Infants 0-6 months: 4 micrograms (6 IU); 7-12 months, 5 micrograms (7.5 IU)
- Vitamin K helps with blood clotting and supports bone health. In fact, all infants receive an injection of vitamin K shortly after birth to help prevent bleeding and because they don’t get enough vitamin K from breast milk until their bodies can make it. Infants 0-6 months: 2 micrograms AI; infants 7-12 months, 2.5 micrograms AI.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin) plays a critical role in the production of energy and in maintaining muscle tone in the digestive tract. Thiamin also supports the nervous system, hair, skin, eyes, mouth, and liver. Infants 0-6 months: 0.2 mg AI; infants 7-12 months, 0.3 mg AI
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) helps with energy production and fights free radicals. Infants 0-6 months: 0.3 mg AI; infants 7-12 months: 0.4 mg AI
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) helps support the skin, nerve function, and the digestive system. It also plays a key role in energy production. Infants 0-6 months: 2 mg AI; 7-12 months: 4 mg AI
- Vitamin B6 is involved in more than 100 enzyme reactions that involve metabolism. Infants also need vitamin B6 for brain development and immune function. Infants 0-6 months: 0.1 mg AI; infants 7-12 months: 0.3 mg AI
- Folate is a B vitamin that is necessary for proper cell division and for making DNA. Infants 0-6 months: 65 micrograms AI; infants 7-12 months: 80 micrograms AI
- Vitamin B12 helps make genetic material called DNA and is also necessary for a healthy nervous system and blood cells. Infants 0-6 months: 0.4 micrograms AI; 7-12 months, 0.5 micrograms AI
For most infants up to one year of age, breast milk, formula, and the introduction of solid baby food that has been fortified typically provide nearly all of the vitamins children need. However, individual infants differ, so in addition to vitamin D supplements, parents should check with their doctor to determine whether their child is getting all the vitamins he or she needs.
Gallo S et al. Effect of different dosages of oral vitamin D supplementation on vitamin D status in healthy, breastfed infants. A randomized trial. JAMA 2013. DOI:10.1001/jama.2013.3404
National Academy of Sciences
National Institutes of Health