An interesting piece in the NY Times today discusses Vitamin D deficiency in babies and toddlers. According to the article, many breastfed children are lacking the nutrient due to many mothers’ insufficient quantity of Vit D in their breastmilk. Additionally, children are not exposed to the sun as they once were, which pediatricians feel could be contributing to the depletion. Many doctors don’t test children for Vitamin D, so the deficiency (which can cause bone deformations and rickets) can go without being diagnosed.
It’s rare, but no surprise that breastmilk can have a low level of Vitamin D, but many mothers are breastfeeding for longer these days, which means they need to be mindful of their intake of Vitamin D and monitor that of their kids. Those with darker skin, women who cover their skin for religious reasons, and those who don’t go outside at all are at higher risk.
In this day and age, when medicine is run by insurance companies, most pediatricians see many kids each day and office visits might entail only some measurements and a shot or two. It’s up to parents to be their children’s advocates if they see any reason for concern. As with most health issues, prevention is the healthiest and simplest way to solve this problem.
One way to cheaply and easily get enough Vit D is through exposure to sunlight (the body makes D naturally, but only when skin is exposed to sun). While it’s true that we need to be cautious of sun damage and prevent overexposure, spending a bit of time outdoors each day can be a good thing for both you and your baby. Less than 10-15 minutes of sun daily is safe (if you use sunblock of 8 or higher, you won’t be able to absorb the UV rays that help make Vitamin D) for most people.
Foods that naturally contain Vitamin D include: eggs (yolk only), fatty fish, milk and fortified cereal and milk products (like many soymilks). If you are vegan, there is good info about it here.