The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding babies until at least six months old to support a baby's health and development. To make sure that babies who are formula-fed get the same nutrition, infant formula is already fortified with vitamins.
Many believe breast milk contains all the nutrition an infant needs and that breastfed babies don't need additional baby vitamins. However, some studies have shown that breast milk has changing levels of nutrients. For that reason, it's important to consider newborn supplements to make sure your baby receives enough of all the vital vitamins and minerals they need.
This article will look at the importance of vitamins for babies and the specific minerals and vitamins recommended for newborns.
So, why do babies need vitamins?
Just like older children and adults, babies have a wide range of nutritional needs. Vitamins and minerals are essential for healthy development, including:
- Healthy immune system
- Normal bone growth and strength
- Development of strong teeth
- Brain function
- Proper development of the nervous system
- Normal vision
- Good energy levels
Infant formula milk is a good source of iron and vitamins. For that reason, many babies who go to full term will not need vitamin supplements if they are formula-fed. However, there are risk factors, such as geographical location, dark skin or little exposure to the sun, that mean it’s still wise to consider giving your newborn supplements.
When it comes to breastfed babies, mums need to eat the perfect diet to provide everything their child needs through breast milk. And while many of us eat healthily, it’s not always possible to eat the ideal diet, even when we try to.
What's more, a mum’s health and history will also impact how her body absorbs nutrients from food, so her breast milk may not contain ideal levels of nutrients. To help bridge this gap, newborn vitamins are the perfect solution to ensure well-balanced nourishment, including all the essentials.
Recommended Vitamins for Babies
Not all babies will need newborn supplements, so be sure to check with your midwife or doctor before starting.
Doctors typically recommend giving most infants vitamin D drops from birth. Other nutrients important for babies include iron, vitamin B12, vitamin K and zinc.
Let's look at each of these in more detail.
Our bodies produce vitamin D when we have sun exposure. Because it's widely recommended to keep very young children out of the sun, there's a risk of vitamin D deficiency if a supplement isn't given, particularly for breastfed babies. Usually, this vitamin is administered by drops to babies under six months of age. When a baby starts to transition onto solid food, cow's milk, soy milk, cereals, and orange juice are all excellent choices, as they are generally fortified with vitamin D. In addition, the following foods are naturally rich in this nutrient:
- Oily fish, including sardines, salmon and mackerel
- Leafy greens, like kale and spinach
- Red meat
Babies might be deficient in B12 if they have a vegan or vegetarian mother, so breastfeeding women should take a supplement if they eat little to no animal products. Vitamin B12 is essential for preventing anaemia and for the development of the nervous system. The following foods are good sources of vitamin B12:
- Dairy products, including cheese, yoghurt and milk
- Fish and seafood, like red salmon, tuna and clams
- Poultry, especially the dark meat of chicken
- Liver and kidney meat, especially from lamb
Vitamin K is used by the body for blood clotting and stopping bleeding, so a deficiency of it can be life-threatening. Because babies are not born with enough vitamin K in their bodies, GPs will frequently suggest that a newborn supplement shot is given at birth. The best source of vitamin K is found in the following foods:
- Green vegetables, such as lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, brussels sprouts, turnip greens and kale
- Soybean or canola oil
- Fruits and fruit juices, particularly pomegranate, blueberries and grapes
Read more about Vitamin K here.
Iron is found in both breast milk and infant formula. However, your healthcare provider might recommend an iron newborn supplement for vegans or vegetarians or if your baby was born prematurely. When babies start to eat solid foods, they might need iron supplements because they will need a lot more of it then. Iron-rich foods include:
- Beans and other legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, and black, kidney or lima beans
- Red meat
- Dried fruit, particularly raisins, dates, figs and prunes
- Vegetables such as button mushrooms, squash, leeks and dark greens
Zinc is essential for the immune system and is also critical in making proteins and DNA, so it impacts babies' growth and development. From about six months of age, babies can begin to eat foods rich in zinc, such as:
- Red meat, including beef and pork
- Dairy products, such as cheese, yoghurt and milk
- Fortified foods like prepared cereals
For more information on what to eat when breastfeeding, read our article Eating healthily whilst breastfeeding.
Although not all infants need baby vitamins, most will be recommended at least vitamin D and possibly some additional important supplements. This is true for both breastfed and formula-fed babies.
Always check with your healthcare expert before giving your newborn vitamins and check the labels to be sure the product you choose is suitable for your baby.
For other essentials for newborns and new mums, check out our Baby Collection. Our expert midwives have developed a range of products to get you and your baby off to a healthy start.