Every new mom wants to make sure they are providing their baby with the very best possible, and for nursing mothers, that means making sure their baby is getting adequate nutrition. Among the array of essential nutrients for infants, vitamin D stands out as a key player, benefiting both the nursing mother and her precious bundle of joy. Let’s explore the vast world of vitamin D benefits for breastfed infants, its significance for mom & baby, and how to ensure your baby gets their daily dose of vitamin D through breast milk.
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The Marvels of Vitamin D: A Nutrient with Multifaceted Roles
Vitamin D, often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” is a fat-soluble nutrient that plays a myriad of vital roles in the body. It’s most well known for its ability to support bone health by aiding in the absorption of calcium and promoting proper bone mineralization.
But beyond its skeletal impact, vitamin D influences a range of bodily functions, including immune system function, cell growth, insulin regulation, and modulation of inflammation (1).
Vitamin D is produced naturally by the body when skin is exposed to sunlight, but it can also be obtained through supplements and certain foods.
Vitamin D intake and breastfeeding
While we often focus on nutrition status during pregnancy quite heavily, breastfeeding an infant is often a much more calorically (and nutritionally) demanding process than pregnancy.
When a mother chooses to breastfeed, her body becomes the source of nourishment for her baby. As such, her nutrient intake directly impacts her baby’s health and development. Vitamin D, however, is a unique nutrient due to its dual significance—it’s not only essential for the mother’s well-being but also crucial for the infant’s growth and development (2).
Benefits of Vitamin D for Nursing Mothers:
- Bone Health: Vitamin D deficiency can compromise the mother’s bone health, leading to a higher risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
- Mood and Well-Being: Vitamin D is linked to mood regulation, and deficiency may contribute to mood disorders or postpartum depression (3).
- Immune Function: Adequate vitamin D levels are vital for a robust immune system, which is crucial for a nursing mother’s overall health.
Up to half of breastfeeding mothers are deficient in vitamin D
Nursing moms are 4 times as likely to experience vitamin D deficiency, which poses a significant health risk for both mother and baby (4). Mothers who are vitamin D deficient may experience bone density loss, weakened immune system, and a higher risk of infections, as well as a low mood.
The risks of infant vitamin D deficiency include (5):
- Early childhood caries (cavities)
- Increased risk of respiratory illness
- Greater likelihood of developing an autoimmune disorder later in life
- Other issues arising from immune weakness or dysfunction
How much vitamin D should you take?
Research indicates that maternal vitamin D status can influence the vitamin D levels in breast milk. A 2020 review & meta-analysis found that moms with higher vitamin D levels had higher vitamin D concentrations in their breast milk (6).
To ensure your baby gets an adequate supply of vitamin D through breast milk, it’s recommended that nursing mothers maintain adequate vitamin D levels themselves and avoid vitamin D deficiency.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all breastfeeding infants receive a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IUs from birth until they reach 12 months old. However, a review in the journal Pediatrics established that a mother who consumes 6,400 IUs of vitamin D daily will be able to pass adequate amounts through her breastmilk to make infant supplementation unnecessary (7).
It’s important to note that individual needs may vary for maternal supplementation, so consulting with a healthcare provider is advisable.
Shop: Vitamin D for adults
Good Sources of Vitamin D Foods:
Now, let’s explore some good sources of vitamin D foods. While it’s difficult to obtain enough vitamin D from food alone, incorporating these foods into your diet can help boost your levels (8):
- Fatty Fish & seafood: Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources of vitamin D.
- Fortified Foods: Many foods, such as dairy products, orange juice, and cereals, are fortified with vitamin D.
- Egg Yolks: Egg yolks contain small amounts of vitamin D.
- Organ meats & Other Sources: Liver, cod liver oil, & mushrooms exposed to UV light
The power of sunlight
Exposure to sunlight prompts vitamin D synthesis in the skin. Spending time outdoors in the sun, while following safe sun exposure guidelines, can contribute to maintaining adequate vitamin D levels. Sunlight exposure alone, however, is generally not enough to raise maternal vitamin D levels enough to avoid direct infant supplementation with vitamin D.
Be sure to protect yourself from harmful UV rays with sunscreen after 10-15 minutes in the sun.
Nourishing generations with vitamin D
As a nursing mother, you are the bridge between your baby and the world of nutrition. Nursing mothers should aim to get their vitamin D levels tested and be consistent with vitamin D supplementation to pass along enough vitamin D to their baby through breast milk. With a combination of supplements, food sources, and outdoor exposure, you can provide your baby with the best start to a healthy life. The sun’s rays may set, but the legacy of your care and nourishment will continue to shine brightly.