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Vitamin D

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin at all, but a pro-hormone. Its main role in the body is to maintain calcium levels in our bones to ensure good skeletal health and prevent rickets, osteomalacia and problems associated with low calcium. It also maintains blood calcium levels and helps transport calcium in the kidney and absorption in the small intestine.

How do we get it?

Vitamin D is made by the body through conversion of a compound called 7-dehydrocholesterol on the skin by UVB rays from the sun. The body then converts it to its most active form, 1, 25 hydroxy vitamin D. Importantly, the rays from the sun are only the right length to carry out this conversion between April and September. The lack of summer sun in the UK means that it is likely most of us do not have adequate vitamin d status and a large number may even be deficient.

Some foods contain vitamin D naturally (oily fish, eggs and dairy) and some are fortified such as fat spreads and breakfast cereals – but in minimal amounts in comparison to that from sunlight. This can be a problem for those with additional vitamin D requirements (such as during pregnancy and infancy), or those with limited access to sunlight (such as over-use of sunblock).

How much is needed?

During pregnancy / lactation, the recommended daily amount is 10ug/day.

For infants 0-6 months the recommended daily amount is 8.5ug/day.

For children 6 months to 4 years of age the RDA is set at 7ug/day


Breastfed babies:
Babies born at full term who are breastfed need extra vitamins A & D from 6 months. Breastfed babies will need to start these vitamins at 1 month of age if their mother’s vitamin status during pregnancy was considered low

Formula fed babies:
Formula milk is routinely supplemented with vitamin D so most bottle fed babies are achieving this level; however breast milk depends on maternal levels so may sometimes be low. This is not a reason to swap to bottle feeding however, as breast milk offers many other benefits. Vitamin D drops can be provided to complement the breast milk.

Preterm babies who are formula fed
When preterm babies stop their multivitamin and iron supplement or change from preterm to term formula milk, they should all begin a vitamin supplement containing vitamins A & D.

Term babies who are formula fed need vitamins A & D once they are over 6 months and drinking less than 500mls infant formula per day. In areas where vitamin D deficiency is high, some NHS Trusts recommend all term babies begin these supplements at birth.

Children 1 - 5 years
A supplement of vitamins A & D is recommended

Children over five years
No supplement is required

How can vitamin D intake be increased?

Several things can be done to improve vitamin D intake. Thirty minutes of sun exposure 2-3 times a week during the summer months is enough for your body to maintain its stores of vitamin D. For infants and toddlers this is more difficult due to the importance of sun safety information, but early morning/late evening time outside, without sun cream on their hands and face for a short period of time should be enough. It is important to note that sun exposure in this context should never lead to sun tanning or sunburn – and this is not a sign that you are getting more vitamin D.

Oily fish, eggs and dairy products as well as fortified products can provide a source of vitamin D as well as supplying other vitamins and nutrients needed for good health. Most products, if fortified, will display this on the front of the packet.

For pregnant women, many multi-vitamin and mineral supplements now contain vitamin D – but they should check that the vitamin D levels are at 10ug.

Healthy Start vitamin drops suitable for infants and children up to 5 years are available through most clinics and free to those families who qualify.