Does An Exclusively Breastfed Baby Need Extra Vitamins?

Does An Exclusively Breastfed Baby Need Extra Vitamins

Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to give your child a healthy head start. Breast milk is a unique blend that provides nearly all of the nutrients that infants need to grow and develop. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding should continue until a baby’s first birthday or longer.

Benefits of Breast Milk

Breastfeeding offers many benefits for both moms and infants. Breastfed babies tend to get sick less often than formula-fed infants, with a lower chance of ear infections, stomach issues and diarrhea. Babies who are breastfed also have a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. Plus, breast milk may protect children from other conditions, including asthma, diabetes, and obesity. Nursing can help mothers heal from childbirth, and it may lower the risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Breastfeeding can burn up to 600 calories per day, which can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight.

Nutrients Your Baby Needs

Breast milk naturally has the vitamins and minerals that healthy, full-term babies need up to the first six months of life with very few exceptions. The following nutrients need to be taken into consideration during your infant’s first year of life. Be sure to talk with your baby’s doctor for advice.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps babies use calcium and phosphorus from breast milk, which aids in bone development. The body can make vitamin D from sun exposure. However, infants shouldn’t be in direct sunlight. The AAP advises that all babies who are exclusively or partially breastfed receive a vitamin D supplement. Your baby’s doctor will likely recommend you give your baby a supplement of 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D each day. Breast milk only contains about 25 IU of vitamin D per liter.

Iron: Your baby needs iron for brain growth and development. This mineral is also needed to make hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that transport oxygen through the body. Full-term, healthy infants receive enough iron from their mothers during the third trimester of pregnancy to last for the first four months of life. However, breast milk contains little iron. After four months of age, babies who are breastfed have an increased risk of iron deficiency.

The AAP says that babies who are exclusively breastfed should receive 1 milligram of iron per kilogram of body weight (mg/ kg) each day starting at four months of age. Babies should get an iron supplement until they start eating foods rich in iron, such as iron-fortified infant cereal. Babies who are partially breastfed need the same amount of iron supplementation if more than half of their feedings each day are breast milk.

Additional Supplements to Consider

Some children, whether breastfed or formula-fed, may need fluoride supplements after six months of age. Fluoride, a mineral that’s vital for teeth development, is often found in tap water. Only infants living in communities with less than 0.3 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride in the water supply need this supplementation. Ask your child’s doctor or dentist if they need fluoride supplements. Do not give your infant fluoride supplements before six months of age.

Babies who are born early may have additional supplement needs. If you have any questions about supplements, talk to your child’s doctor, who can tell you what’s best for your baby.

Jenilee Matz, MPH is a Medical Writer at Walgreens, where you can find a variety of vitamins and minerals that may aid in pediatric health here. She enjoys writing about tips for new mothers and her passion is spreading awareness on how to reduce the risk of infectious and chronic diseases. 

Although it is intended to be accurate, neither Walgreen Co., its subsidiaries or affiliates, nor any other party assumes for loss or damage due to reliance on this material. Walgreens does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned in the article. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk.