Breastfeeding is often recommended for babies, but a now new study suggests that children who breastfeed for too long may be at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. Based on the new study, it is being recommended that breastfeeding babies past the age of one receive a daily vitamin D supplement.
Breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for babies and toddlers. Breast milk contains important nutrients that babies need. As well, babies who are breastfed are less likely to develop certain diseases later on in their life, such as multiple sclerosis or cancer. Study co-author Dr. Jonathon Maguire calls breast milk a “near perfect food.”
However, breast milk does not contain any vitamin D. This can be a problem in places like the Northern U.S. or Canada, where babies may not get enough sunlight to produce vitamin D. Cow’s milk is often fortified with vitamin D for this reason.
Researchers wanted to determine whether babies who breastfeed are at an increased risk of developing vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiencies can cause a number of health problems, including fatigue, poor sleep, and even conditions like rickets.
Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada studied 2,500 healthy children between the ages of one and five. Blood samples were taken from the children to check their vitamin D levels. Researchers also determined how long the children were breastfed for and whether they took vitamin D supplements.
The study found that the children who were breastfed and did not take vitamin D supplements were at an increased risk of having a vitamin D deficiency. In fact, for every month that children were breastfed past the age of one, there was a six percent greater chance that they had a vitamin D deficiency. Based on these findings, the researchers estimated that 16% of two-year-olds who are still breastfeeding are seriously deficient in vitamin D. Over one quarter of three-year-olds who are still breastfeeding would be expected to have a serious deficiency.
The study found that the risk of vitamin D deficiency was the same even if the breastfeeding children were eating solid foods. However, children that took vitamin D supplements did not have an increased risk of deficiency.
The results highlight the importance of supplementing vitamin D for breastfeeding babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers give their children vitamin D supplements if they are breastfeeding for any amount of time. It is typically recommended that mothers give their babies 400 IU of vitamin D daily, although sometimes a higher amount is recommended for people in northern areas where there is less sunlight. However, too much vitamin D can be dangerous. It is recommended that mothers speak to their doctor to determine the right dose.
Vitamin D supplements are widely available at health food stores, pharmacies, and grocery markets.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Maguire, J., et al, “Total Duration of Breastfeeding, Vitamin D Supplementation, and Serum Levels of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D,” American Journal of Public Health, doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.303021, last accessed February 20, 2016.
“Benefits of Breastfeeding,” National Resources Defense Council, http://www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/benefits.asp.