Vitamins & Supplements – What Does My Baby Really Need?
It’s no secret that proper nutrition, especially key vitamins and minerals, is crucial to anyone’s health. Your new baby has even more needs for all the elements that develop bone, brain, and organ health. By the time your baby is 6 months old, though, the pediatrician has likely suggested that you give your baby three supplements a day. What does she need all of this for? Are there other options out there? Doesn’t she get everything she needs from my milk? These are all questions you should be asking yourself before you fill up that dropper. For the otherwise healthy baby, vitamin D, iron, and fluoride are the current supplements that the American Academy of Pediatrics states are imperative for proper development – but are they truly necessary?
Shortly after birth around the one week visit, it is recommended that your baby receives 400 IU of vitamin D per day. All commercial formulas sold in the US already contain this, however that is assuming your infant drinks 33+ ounces of formula daily. If she is breastfed or only supplemented with formula, vitamin D should be given until another milk, such as cow’s milk, can be given at 12 months. Even then, some research shows that children still don’t have enough D from milk and need to continue to take 600 IU of D daily.
Why so much?
Vitamin D is a critical factor in the development of bones. Without it, our bodies are unable to use calcium to build and grow strong, healthy bones. In severe cases, this causes a condition called Rickets where the bones are so soft and weak that they begin to bend from just the weight of the child. More commonly, low D levels can lead to subsequent broken bones and more severe breaks from injury.
Since we get D primarily from sunlight, and leaving your baby out in the noonday sun is not a good option, oral drops are the best way for her to get the D she needs. However, it is important to pick the right brand, so be sure to discuss other options with your pediatrician. When looking for a D supplement for your baby, always be sure to look at the inactive ingredients. Many products sold in pharmacies contain artificial colors, preservatives, and flavors. Personally I’ve found that Carlson’s Super Daily D is a great option. It contains 400 IU in each DROP, making it much easier for a newborn. Bonus: it only contains coconut & palm oils.
Adding D in the Diet
Once your baby is eating some table food, there are some great sources of D right in your fridge. A large egg yolk has about 40 IU of D, and 3 ounces of salmon can contain up to 450 IU. Vitamin D is passed through the placenta during pregnancy and is also in breastmilk, in limited levels. Because of this, it very important that you continue to take a prenatal vitamin while you are breastfeeding, for your own D level as well. Although the information is limited, there is a study showing that if a breastfeeding mother takes 3600 IU per day, her baby will get significantly more vitamin D. This may be another way to ensure that your baby is well on her way to growing up strong. Always discuss any changes to your vitamin routine with your doctor before starting or stopping any supplements.
So you’ve made it to the 3 month checkup! Now begins more discussions about vitamins and minerals. Next on the agenda is iron. Red blood cells need iron to grow and pass oxygen onto the muscles and organs in the body. Anemia can result without it, resulting in fatigue, frequent infections, and even behavioral problems. During the third trimester, your baby stores enough iron to last about 4 months after birth – there’s a gap between then and when iron rich foods are introduced.
Filling the gap
Again, if you are using formula, it has enough iron to maintain a healthy level. Unfortunately, iron does not pass through into breastmilk. If your baby was premature – especially more than 4 weeks early – or had a low birth weight, iron supplementation from birth is important. Otherwise, it may not be really necessary despite the time lapse in iron stores. Since you likely took iron during your pregnancy, you know what it can do to your tummy. Preventing your baby from getting constipated will be a constant battle. Consider Baby Move Prune Concentrate daily to prevent the discomfort.
Your pediatrician should run a blood test at 12 months to see if your baby needs more iron or if the addition of foods has compensated. Interestingly, iron levels are one of the main reasons why we don’t give cow’s milk to infants under 12 months. Like human milk, it doesn’t contain iron and can actually block the body’s absorption of iron from other foods.
Dietary iron is very easy to find and incorporate into every meal. The most obvious sources of iron are from meats, especially beef, turkey and lamb. There’s good news for those staying away from animal products too! There are high levels of iron in oatmeal, wheat germ, kale, beet greens, and even apricots. Either pureed or cooked soft, every baby can find a favorite.
It’s teething time, and as if that isn’t bad enough on its own, now you have to decide if your baby needs fluoride. Not passed in breastmilk or found in formula, fluoride is very important for healthy teeth. In the US, if you have city or town water, it may have fluoride added. Many public water systems maintain fluoride levels in treated water supplies to reduce cavities. If your community doesn’t opt for this or if like me, you have a well, then it’s a good idea to have your water tested for fluoride.
But here’s the problem, and it’s a big one.
Fluoride drops for infants and tablets for kids are only available by prescription. What’s the big deal, you ask? If your water tests low, your pediatrician and/or dentist will send in a prescription for fluoride, and I can guarantee with almost 100% certainty that he/she has NO IDEA what else is in those products – mine didn’t! Methylparaben, artificial sweeteners, FD&C, and artificial peach and grape flavors top the ingredients list! Since the only available supplements are by prescription, there is no competition in the marketplace for the drug companies to make a better, more natural fluoride.
What do we do? I certainly don’t want my daughter to get cavities, but this kind of supplement isn’t going to work for our family. Since too much fluoride is also unhealthy, you shouldn’t use a fluorinated toothpaste every day until the little one can spit it out. It is important to brush all those little teeth twice daily using a fluoride-free toothpaste, like Jack N’ Jill Natural Toothpaste, as well as use the fluoride toothpaste around twice weekly instead. It’s important to look at all of the ingredients in your oral care products, too. Your pediatrician may offer a fluoride film that is applied to the teeth several times per year in the office and then brushed off as another option. Although it’s not enough to get all the fluoride we need, tomatoes, prunes and spinach do have some to help along the way.
Do what’s best for your baby!
Maintaining a balance between the right supplements for your baby and ingredients that make you comfortable can be a challenge. Armed with the correct information and knowing what to ask and look for will make these decisions easier and increase your confidence. Enjoy watching your baby grow up healthy and strong!
American Academy on Pediatric Dentistry Liaison with Other Groups Committee; American Academy on Pediatric Dentistry Council on Clinical Affairs. Guideline on fluoride therapy. Pediatr Dent. 2011–2012;33:153–156.s