Should my child be taking a vitamin? As a pediatrician I’m asked this question frequently—and for good reason. The vitamin industry is now a multi-million dollar business with need-creating advertisements splashed all over venues parents frequent. It can be hard to know what to believe. Well, should your child be taking vitamins or not? The answer is—it depends on the child and the vitamin!
I’ll give you a quick overview of specific vitamins along with reasons a child may need to take them:
Exclusively breast fed babies should take vitamin D and iron supplements. Vitamin D is important for both bone formation and the immune system. Subtle vitamin D deficiency is actually quite prevalent—especially in dark-skinned individuals and those living in Northern climates—as these circumstances can slow the body’s ability to synthesize Vitamin D from sunshine. However, Vitamin D deficiency is easily prevented with an over-the-counter vitamin D drop (goal 400 IU/day).1 Supplementation should continue unless the child consumes foods with supplemental vitamin D or has adequate sun exposure. If you’d like to find out more about vitamin D, please watch these videos on the subject: Ask the Doctor or 8 Laws of Health.
Iron is important for the development of red blood cells (these cells are responsible for carrying oxygen in your blood). Iron supplementation doesn’t have to start until around 4 months.2 The goal of supplementation is 10-15 mg Elemental iron/day (most infant over-the-counter iron drops meet this requirement). Once a child starts consuming iron-fortified foods, the need for supplemental iron is not as great. To find out why iron is important for the body and information on plant based sources check out the article Iron Strong.
For vegetarians, B12 is important to obtain in the diet (with goal about 0.5 micrograms for infants and about 1.5 micrograms for older children).3 This vitamin is very important for proper neuronal development. Most foods are now fortified with B12, but very strict vegans need to be careful they are getting adequate quantities. The need for proper B12 increases as a child grows into adulthood; therefore, strict vegans should continue supplementation even as adults. For more information see the video Your Life and Health: B12
Fluoride is another mineral that may not be adequate in an infant’s diet. It is vital for proper teeth formation. Thankfully, most city water is supplemented with fluoride, which is sufficient for proper tooth formation. If not, fluoride drops are inexpensive and sufficient.
Finally, what about multivitamins? These come in a host of colors, packages, and tastes. No matter the brand, size, or concentration, the vitamins found in supplements can’t beat what’s grown from the ground. Vitamins found in the foods we eat are much more absorbable. If your child is eating a balanced diet consisting of a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds they are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need. Make sure he eats a spectrum of colors as each color has different concentrations of those important vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins and minerals are important for proper growth and development. Making sure your infant and child are getting proper amounts is advisable. Thankfully, as your child grows, consuming a diet high in fresh grown, unprocessed foods will ensure that they maximize the natural vitamins and minerals thus decreasing the need for supplementation.
- “Vitamin D Supplementation for Infants.” American Academy of Pediatrics, March 22, 2010.
- “First AAP Recommendations on Iron Supplementation Include Directive on Universal Screening.” AAP News, October 5, 2010, E101005–1. doi:10.1542/aapnews.20101005-1.
- “Vitamin B12. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet.” National Institutes of Health, June 24, 2011.