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Vitamin D and children

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Vitamin D is important for all ages but has particular importance in children. Here are some of the common questions pediatricians get asked by parents.

Why is vitamin D important and how does my child get it?

Vitamin D is crucial to healthy bones, muscles, and teeth. It helps to control the calcium and phosphate levels in your child’s body. Too little vitamin D in children can lead to a condition called rickets, which causes pain, reduced growth, and weak bones.

The majority of vitamin D is created by our bodies when our skin is exposed to direct sunlight. This is why people tend to get less vitamin D during winter. There are also small amounts of vitamin D in some foods, such as oily fish, red meats, and egg yolk. Some food sources have vitamin D added artificially, such as oat and soy milk, infant formula, cereals, margarine, and more.

What is the government advice on whether I should give my child vitamin D?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that all children should receive vitamin D supplementation all year round from birth onward. From birth to 1 year of age, children should receive 400 IU of vitamin D a day, and from 1 year of age through adolescence should receive 600 IU of vitamin D a day. The exception to this is babies fed on infant formula. Formula-fed babies do not need vitamin D supplementation, as formula already contains enough. You should start vitamin D supplementation once your child takes less than 32 ounces of infant formula daily.

Is sunlight enough?

No. If your child is from an ethnic minority with dark skin, such as African, African-Caribbean, or South Asian origin, they might not get enough vitamin D through sunlight, even in summer months. Because of this, the recommendation is to consider vitamin D supplementation all year round from birth.

What happens if my child takes too much vitamin D?

Like many things in life, too much of a good thing can hurt, and this is also true for vitamin D. Taking too much vitamin D over a long period of time can cause increased calcium levels that can weaken bones and damage the kidneys and heart.

Infants under 12 months should not take more than 1,000 IU a day, children from 1 to 8 years old should not take more than 2,500 IU a day, and children 9 years and above should not take more than 4,000 IU a day. These recommendations are for total sources of vitamin D. Certain conditions mean that some children cannot take as much safely, so if in doubt, you should consult your doctor or pharmacist.

You cannot overdose on vitamin D from sunlight exposure, as your body can self-regulate this.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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