Are vitamin supplements important for baby nutrition?
Breastmilk and formula are tailored precisely to your baby’s needs, and include exactly the right nutrients for her age and stage of development. Most experts agree that because their milk provides all the essential nutrients, babies under six months old don’t need vitamin supplements, unless they were born prematurely or have other medical problems.
However, once she reaches 6 months, your baby can no longer get everything she needs from milk alone. Around this age, all her stores of essential nutrients such as iron, which built up in her body before birth, need to be replenished through the gradual process of weaning.
Weaning is a slow journey, and it’s likely to be some time before your baby is getting a complete balanced diet, so the government’s Food Standards Agency recommends that all children aged from 6 months to 2 years who are breastfeeding or taking less than 500ml of formula milk a day should be given supplements providing vitamins A, C and D, in the form of liquid drops.
If your little one is still having over 500ml of formula a day, she should be getting all the baby nutrition she needs. However, there may be other situations where it would be helpful to supplement your baby’s vitamin intake. These include:
It’s normal for your baby’s appetite for solids to increase slowly, but if she’s taking her time adjusting to weaning or is a very picky eater, you might want to give her a supplement to boost her nutrient intake. If you do decide to use a supplement, make sure it’s not at the expense of a good diet: keep trying to introduce new foods and a wide balance of nutrients at this stage, as fussy eating is likely to become more ingrained the older she gets.
After an illness
If your baby has been unwell and it has left her pale, tired and run down, you may want to bolster her with a course of vitamin supplements, especially if her appetite has suffered as a result of illness. Always talk to your GP first, as he can recommend the best tonic for her age and symptoms.
Babies who are brought up on a vegetarian or vegan diet may be lacking in the essential nutrients they need to grow and develop properly, so if you’re raising your baby to eat meat-free, ask your doctor or health visitor whether she would benefit from a supplement containing iron, zinc or vitamin B12. If your baby has allergies that mean following a restricted diet, she may also be missing out on key nutrients – for example, a baby who’s allergic to milk may need additional calcium. Again, your GP or health visitor is the best person to advise you.
Choosing a good supplement
For babies under 12 months, it’s recommended that you choose a vitamin supplement that comes in the form of liquid drops. If you’re in receipt of certain benefits, these drops may be available on prescription, but even if you don’t qualify to receive them free of charge, you may be able to get them at a reduced rate from your local NHS Child Health Clinic: ask your health visitor for details.
If you’re buying a vitamin supplement, take care to ensure that it’s suitable for your baby’s age and stage of development, as some nutrients can be toxic to young babies in the wrong dose. Buy from a pharmacy rather than a supermarket, so you can ask the pharmacist for advice, and check the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) on the packet – these are usually listed as percentages of your child’s daily requirements, so you can work out whether they will meet her needs.
Always keep vitamin supplements somewhere safe, well out of reach of your baby and any older children, as an overdose of iron, in particular, can be very dangerous.
For more advice
If you need more information about whether a vitamin supplement is necessary for your baby, or if you have any other concerns about your child’s diet or health, speak to your GP or health visitor.
Read more on baby nutrition.