Vitamin D for babies – Everything you need to know about
It came as a surprise when the blood tests claimed that my son was deficient in Vitamin D. We live in Chennai- I haven’t lived in a hotter and sunnier city all my life. Vitamin D was something we took for granted. Yet, this happened to him.
My son was an exclusively breastfed baby. After six months, we supplemented breastfeeding with solids. But we never had to give him formula milk. It is said that exclusively breastfed babies need Vitamin D supplementation as breast milk has very little Vitamin D.
Does that mean breast milk is inferior to formula?
Of course, not.
Human babies are supposed to be getting our Vitamin D from sun exposure, not breast milk. That is why breast milk has less Vitamin D. Since formula companies know about this inadequacy, they compensate by adding extra vitamin D in their milk powder.
Why Vitamin D for babies and kids?
Vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium, a mineral which is extremely important for bone and teeth health. The vitamin is also necessary for a healthy immune system. This gains even more importance for babies and young kids, whose bones and teeth are at the early stages of formation.
We give milk products to make sure they get enough calcium. We also need to ensure they get enough Vitamin D for the calcium to be absorbed at all.
Vitamin D deficiency in our generation:
Traditionally, our ancestors worked in fields all day and kids played in the sun. I have even heard of a custom where babies will be applied oil all over the body and allowed to play in the sun. Hence, this is a topic which did not even need a discussion.
However, with long working hours, people staying indoors most of the time (hey, shopping malls are considered indoors too) and kids being hooked to video games, all this has changed. Another big issue is the fear of skin cancer, which has been attributed to sun exposure. We are being advised to apply a good sunscreen when we are out in the sun. The parts covered in cloth and the ones covered in sunscreen cannot produce Vitamin D.
Can sun exposure cause skin cancer?
There is certainly an amount of truth to this fear of skin cancer. We would have read during our high school days about the depletion of ozone layer caused by certain chemicals and how they cause more UV rays to reach our earth. Thankfully, the ozone layer is recovering after the complete phaseout of these chemicals.But not enough to relax, yet.
We still need to be careful about overexposure to sun, as the same UV rays that help in producing Vitamin D can also lead to skin cancer. This is especially true for small babies, because they have thinner, more delicate skin.
Benefits of sunlight to babies:
Let’s see the benefits of sunlight for babies and how you can utilize sunlight to the maximum.
- Treatment in jaundice:
Mild newborn jaundice is treated by exposing the naked baby to sunlight for no more than 5 minutes at a time, once or twice a day. Sunlight filtered through windows also works for jaundice.
- Natural sanitizer:
Direct sunlight is a great sanitizer and stain remover for clothes and nappies. It’s an eco friendly, inexpensive and chemical free way to dry her clothes!
- Effective against diaper rash:
When my son had a diaper rash from yeast infection at four months, I treated it naturally. One of the things that I did was to expose his naked butt to sunlight every evening and to dry his nappies in sun to prevent re-infection.
- Eases depression:
Sunlight can ease mild depression.
Newborn mothers are known for being depressed and moody, thanks to all the hormonal changes and hard work. A relaxed walk in the sunlight can do wonders to mom and baby.
Lesser known facts about Vitamin D for babies:
#1. There are two types of UV rays that reach the earth’s surface – UVA and UVB.
Only UVB helps produce Vitamin D. UVB cannot penetrate glass. So you are not producing Vitamin D when you are inside your car or home with windows closed.
The UVA rays can still penetrate the glass. So you are only unnecessarily exposing yourself to sun tan and cancer risk.
#2. When you apply sunscreen or cover yourself with clothes, you protect yourself from the sun, but you also cannot make vitamin D.
#3. Mushrooms, egg yolk, fish and cod liver oil are other good sources of Vitamin D.
#4. Given that many babies are found deficient in vitamin D, it’s wise to consult your doctor and give him a vitamin D supplement, especially if he does not get much sunlight.
Sensible sun exposure
Given all the benefits of sunlight, it is wise to not totally avoid it in fear of sun tan and cancer. Following sensible practices while exposing to sun can have great benefits for babies and young children.
- Use light weight, light colored clothing on babies and always prefer cotton clothes. You can limit their sun exposure by covering arms and legs.
- The sun is strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM. Hence outdoor activities can be planned before or after this time frame. This is especially true for babies less than six months.
- However, it’s also true that UV rays and hence Vitamin D production is highest roughly between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. During this time, more vitamin D can be produced in a shorter time frame.
- A cloudy day does not mean there are no UV rays. Your baby can get burned even on a cooler day. This is especially true when the sky is partly cloudy.
- Some experts say spending 5 to 30 minutes outside at least twice a week should provide enough Vitamin D. This is only a rough estimate and will differ from place to place, person to person, time to time.
Hope you liked this article on the importance of Vitamin D for babies.
Do you take advantage of the natural goodness of the sun? How has outdoor playtime changed since the times you were a kid? What precautions do you take to make sure your babies are safe when outside? Do share with us.