If breast is best, why do I need to supplement breastmilk but not formula?

If breast is best, why do I need to supplement breastmilk but not formula?
Aug 28, 2018

Most people are familiar with the saying “breast is best”, so it is only natural to assume this means that breastmilk has all the nutrients a growing baby needs. This is why it may be a bit shocking when your pediatrician mentions that you need to start giving your breastfed baby supplemental vitamin D.

So is this something that you really need to do? The answer is absolutely. Unfortunately, breastmilk is low in vitamin D, which is important for healthy bone development and for preventing rickets, or weak and deformed bones. Since this is such an important vitamin, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends supplementing breastfed babies with 400 IU of vitamin D per day beginning in the first few days of life.[1]

At this point you might be wondering if there are any alternatives to giving your baby a supplement. There really isn’t a simple answer to this question. If you are supplementing your breastmilk with formula, which does have the necessary amount of daily vitamin D, your baby will be getting some additional vitamin D from the formula. However, this still won’t give your baby enough and the AAP still recommends using a supplement in this situation.[1]

Besides the breastmilk your baby drinks, the only other source of vitamin D for your baby is sunshine. The exact amount of sunshine a baby needs isn’t exactly known and there are a lot of variables that affect how much vitamin D can be absorbed from the sun. These include things like where you live, the darkness of your baby’s skin, and the amount of time your baby spends in the sun without sunblock (which has its own health risks and is generally not recommended).[2]

You can certainly try and increase the amount of vitamin D in your breastmilk by increasing your own vitamin D level. However, increasing your own levels of the vitamin through diet alone isn’t likely, since very few foods have vitamin D and include things like fortified milk, fatty fish, fish liver oil, and egg yolk.3 Even if you continue to take a daily prenatal vitamin or multivitamin there isn’t enough vitamin D in either of these to adequately increase the levels in your breastmilk. If you want to increase the amount of vitamin D in your breastmilk to a healthy level for your nursing infant, you need to take at least 4000 IU per day of the vitamin, which is about ten times the amount found in prenatal vitamins.[4]

The way you choose to get your baby enough vitamin D really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that your baby gets enough of this key vitamin to ensure healthy bone development.

If you do choose to give your baby a vitamin D supplement, Baby Ddrops® are a great way to do it. They are tasteless, odorless, free from most common allergens and contain the recommended dosing of 400 IU in just one drop.

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About the author:

Carrie Noriega | MD

Dr. Carrie Noriega is an experienced physician and writer who is passionate about helping empower people to take charge of their own health. She enjoys taking complex medical information and writing it in an easy to understand manner to help people live healthier, happier lives.

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