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Mamas want their babies to thrive, so it's tempting to read advertisements for baby vitamins and think you need them. An extra boost for your baby's brain or immune health? Yes, please.
But here's the truth: While prenatal vitamins are necessary during pregnancy, your baby can get nearly all the nutrients they need from breastmilk or formula alone for the first four to six months—with a few exceptions.
Nutrient needs depend on whether your baby is formula-fed or breastfed (or a combo of both). Let's look at four important nutrients: vitamin D, iron, omega-3 and probiotics, to help you understand when your baby may need a supplement.
Vitamin D is needed for strong bones, teeth and more
Vitamin D is a must-have supplement. It's essential for your baby's bones, teeth, immune system development and more.
The most efficient way to get vitamin D is from the sun, but one look at an infant's delicate skin, and you can see why direct sunlight isn't suggested for little ones. As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a supplemental vitamin D intake of 400 IU per day soon after birth, which is typically administered through baby vitamin D drops.
All formulas are required to include enough vitamin D to meet your baby’s needs, so as long as they drink at least 32 ounces of formula daily, you don't need to supplement with extra. But if baby takes less or is combo-fed with some breastmilk, they will need additional vitamin D.
But isn’t vitamin D passed through breastmilk? Even if a mama's vitamin D levels are adequate, the amount transferred in breast milk is minimal. Some research suggests that if a breastfeeding mother bumps up vitamin D supplementation to 6400 IU a day, it'll provide enough through breastmilk to meet baby's needs. Just be sure to chat with your pediatrician if you decide to go this route.
How to use baby vitamin drops
Vitamins sold in a drop formulation allow you to easily add one drop of the vitamin liquid to your baby's bottle of pumped breastmilk or formula, or you can simply place one droplet on your nipple before breastfeeding.
Iron supports healthy growth and development
Like vitamin D, infants need extra iron once they reach four to six months. Iron makes red blood cells, which help carry oxygen throughout the body. Deficiency can cause anemia, which means there aren't enough red blood cells to do their job. It also can interrupt normal brain development and cognitive function.
Your baby gets enough iron from you at the end of pregnancy to last for the first four to six months, but then levels drop. The AAP recommends starting oral iron supplements for breastfed babies (the amount depends on your little one's size) to decrease the risk of deficiency until you introduce iron-containing solid foods. Talk to your doctor about appropriate dosing levels.
Formula-fed babies don't necessarily need additional iron supplements as long as the formula is fortified, so be sure to check the label. However, just like vitamin D, if a baby gets combo-fed with breastmilk and formula, they will likely still need iron supplements. Once a baby hits 1 year old, their pediatrician should check your child’s iron levels to ensure they are still on track.
Omega-3s might reduce allergies and support brain development
You've probably heard about anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. They're often included in prenatal vitamins because they are so crucial for brain development, eye health and even the immune system.
DHA is a type of omega-3 found in high concentrations in the retina and brain. Research also suggests that babies with adequate DHA have a lower risk of developing allergies and eczema.
It’s not a required supplement like iron or vitamin D, but it’s so beneficial that it’s regularly added to some formulas. While some passes through breastmilk, you may not get enough (for you or for your baby) unless you regularly eat fatty fish.
While the AAP doesn't have an official stance on DHA, if you are breastfeeding and don't eat seafood, you may want to consider taking a supplement to increase the amount of DHA in your breastmilk.
Probiotics for a healthy gut
Probiotics are live microorganisms that have health benefits. They are often called "good" or "friendly" bacteria because they help keep the gut healthy by crowding out harmful bacteria.
There's a lot of compelling research about probiotic use for babies, especially for avoiding diarrhea after using antibiotics or supporting reflux and constipation, or even colic. The TruBiotics Baby Drops include the well-studied probiotic strain BB-12, which has been shown to reduce instances of crying and fussiness while promoting good sleep in infants.
Some research also suggests that baby probiotic supplements could lower the risk of eczema or other allergies. Babies born via c-section may also benefit from probiotics because they don't get the same exposure to mama’s beneficial bacteria in the birth canal.
Breastfed babies are exposed to a diverse number of bacteria through breast milk, and some formulas add probiotics to try to mimic what’s found in breast milk.
If you're considering giving your baby a probiotic supplement, always chat with your pediatrician first. While there are generally few risks associated with taking probiotics, it's always best to get the green light from your doctor before starting any supplement.
The bottom line
Vitamin D and iron are absolutely recommended for babies, although formula-fed babies may get enough from fortified formula. Omega-3 and probiotics could also be beneficial, but always speak with your pediatrician before starting any supplement.
One thing to note—there are a few situations where your baby may need more vitamins. A baby born early or at a lower weight may need more nutrients in the early months. Extra nutrients may also be necessary if mama follows a strict vegan diet or has a history of gastric bypass surgery (which reduces the absorption of certain nutrients).
Otherwise, there's really no need for many additional vitamins aside from the ones we listed above. As long as your little one is taking in enough milk or formula, they should be getting all the nutrients they need.
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