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Childhood Illnesses

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for building and maintaining healthy bones. A lack of vitamin D can lead to problems with bones in children.

Most Vitamin D is obtained from the sunlight, but it can also be found in certain foods. In the UK from the end of September through to April / May most people would benefit from taking a supplement.


Why do we need Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is important for bone and muscle strength.

Scientists also think it may help;

  • Reduce low mood
  • Boost the immune system
  • Help recovery from some cancers
  • Protect from heart disease.

Risk of Vitamin D deficiency

You may have an increased risk of not having enough Vitamin D if;

  • Have a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 30
  • Are of South Asian, African, Caribbean or Middle Eastern descent
  • Have limited skin exposure to the sun
  • You are pregnant. 

Dive Deeper

Pregnancy

All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need 10 micrograms of Vitamin D each day. During the darker winter months you should consider taking a supplement, especially if you do not get outside as much. 

Taking a Vitamin Supplement

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you should take a vitamin D supplement to;

  • Prevent you or your baby becoming low on Vitamin D
  • Keep your and your baby’s bones healthy
  • Prevent your baby’s bones becoming curved
  • Help your baby gain weight in the first year of life.

All pregnant woman are at risk of not getting enough Vitamin D. Make sure you try and get outside as much as possible during sunny periods and take a vitamin supplement. If you need further information about vitamin D in pregnancy, or breastfeeding, you can ask your Midwife, Health Visitor or GP.

Read more about supplements during pregnancy

 

Vitamin D For Babies

It is very unlikely that babies can get enough Vitamin D safely from sunlight alone. Vitamin D is important for their bone strength, growth and plays a part in boosting the immune system too.

Breastfed Babies

It is recommended that all breastfed babies have a Vitamin D supplement from birth. This is advised because babies cannot get enough from sunlight and the ‘dose' in breastmilk is not high enough. Breastfeeding provides enough of all the other vitamins.

  • Your local pharmacist can advise you on a suitable supplement for your baby.
  • You may be eligible for Healthy Start vitamins which include Vitamin D.

Formula Fed Babies

Your baby does not need a supplement if they are having more than 500mls of formula in 24 hrs. Formula has added Vitamin D. Most fully bottle fed babies will be having this much after the very early days (4 or more 4oz bottles in 24 hrs).

You may need to give a supplement if;

  • Your baby is having a mixture of breast and bottle feeds so having less than 500mls of formula in 24hrs.
  • They are older than 6 months and having more solid foods so reducing their formula milk intake.

Read more about Vitamin D doses

 

Diet

Sunshine is where most of your Vitamin D comes from. Even a healthy diet that provides all the other vitamins and goodness you need, is unlikely to provide enough Vitamin D. There are some foods that contain it, which you could add to you own and your families diet to boost their levels of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D can be found in;

  • Oily fish – like salmon or sardines
  • Red meats
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified foods (added to foods during production) including some fat spreads and breakfast cereals
  • Baby formula milk (more than 500mls a day needed to get daily Vitamin D).

Even though the amounts of Vitamin D we need are very small it is still not easy to get Vitamin D from diet alone.

The Sun

In the UK we get most of our Vitamin D from sunlight from around late March/early April to the end of September. Try and get outside as much as possible if the weather is good as this can be really beneficial to you and your family.

You would need around 10 and 25 minutes (depending on skin type/colouring) in direct sunlight. However using sunscreen and / or being in the shade is a barrier to absorbing Vitamin D.

We know that sunscreen and shade are important ways to protects us from skin damage and cancers.

Find out more about getting Vitamin D from the sun

Supplements

Some groups of people may be more at risk from Vitamin D deficiency. It is recommended that the groups below take a supplement;

  • All breastfeeding babies for first year
  • Formula fed babies having less than 500mls formula per day
  • Children aged 1-4
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • People who spend a lot of time indoors
  • Residents in a care home
  • People who usually wear clothes that cover up most of the skin when outdoors
  • People with darker skin (eg. African, African-Caribbean or south Asian background) because this makes it harder to absorb vitamin D from sunlight.

Women and children who qualify for the Healthy Start scheme can get free supplements containing Vitamin D.

You can talk to your local pharmacist about what supplement is right for you and your family.

Too Much Vitamin D

You cannot get too much Vitamin D from sunlight but taking too many vitamin D supplements for a long time can cause too much calcium in the body. This is not good for the heart or kidneys and can also weaken bones.

Vitamin D Recommended Doses

The Department of Health have recommended doses for all age groups;

Newborn to 1 years

  • Babies under 12 months need no more than 25 micrograms a day.

Aged 1 to 11 years

  • No more than 50 micrograms a day is needed as a supplement.

Aged 11 years and over

  • 10 micrograms a day as a supplement is enough for most people aged 11 years and older (including pregnant and breastfeeding women).
  • More than 100 micrograms vitamin D a day could be harmful.

Pre-existing conditions

  • If you or your child have a pre-existing medical condition you should talk to your GP before starting a supplement.

If your doctor has recommended you or your child take a different amount of vitamin D you should follow their advice.

Not Enough Vitamin D

Not having enough vitamin D can lead to;

  • Osteoporosis – weakened or less dense bones, which means they are more likely to fracture
  • Muscle pain
  • Rickets which can cause bone development problems – causing misshapen bones
  • Bone pain, poor growth and soft, weak bones.

Vitamin D is unusual because we get it from our diet and from the sun. We also need to top up Vitamin D using supplements to make sure we get enough.

Healthy Start Cards

Healthy Start is a national scheme to improve health. You could qualify if you're on low income or benefits and are at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under the age of four. You also qualify if you're under 18 years old and pregnant.

Your midwife, health visitor or other health professional can support you to sign up. You will be sent a pre-paid card for cow’s milk, fresh/frozen fruit and vegetables and first infant formula milk. These can be used in local shops or supermarkets. You will also receive vouchers to exchange in pharmacies for:

  • Women’s vitamins (contain Vitamin C, D and Folic Acid) - available from week 10 of pregnancy up to baby’s first birthday
  • Children’s Vitamins (contain Vitamin A, C and D) – from ages 6 months to 4 years.

For families who are not eligible for the scheme, all Norfolk Lloyds Pharmacies sell Healthy Start vitamins at a cheaper price than branded vitamins.

Find out more about Healthy Start

We Need Your Help!

Parents with babies under 1 year - what do you know about Vitamin D?

Due to some cases of babies being unwell due to low Vitamin D levels, the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and the Healthy Child Programme have developed a survey to try and help prevent this.

The survey is to find out what parents know about Vitamin D and vitamin supplements. The survey responses will be collected and reviewed by the NNUH paediatricians and the results used to help prevent babies becoming unwell.

The survey is anonymous. It would be great to get as many responses as possible.

Complete the survey


Who can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below.

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