06/08/2014 11:48 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:06 EDT

How Much Vitamin D do We Really Need?


The Canadian Pediatric Society and American Academy of Pediatrics say babies and children should get at least 400 international units (IU) or vitamin D per day. The vast majority of babies and children do not get close to this.

Where does vitamin D come from?

Vitamin D can be ingested or we can get it from the sun. Most children do not get enough exposure to direct sunlight to get enough natural vitamin D. Due to concerns about skin cancer, parents often keep their kids out of the sun or apply sunscreen liberally -- both great strategies to prevent skin damage though this minimizes vitamin D attainment.

For more on sun safety, click see my blog.

Why is vitamin D important?

Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium and phosphorus, which are critical to building bone. Vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets, a disorder where bones become too soft and don't form properly. Kids at highest risk of rickets are babies less than two years of age who are exclusively breast fed and not supplemented with vitamin D. Even babies who are receiving formula need a supplement with vitamin D if they are receiving less than 32 ounces of formula pre day.

How to give it

There are plenty of options out there. From chewable multivitamins that have 400 IU vitamin D to liquid preparations, there is a product for everyone. I personally prefer the one drop = 400 or 600IU variety as there are often tons of added ingredients such as sugar and aspartame in children's multivitamins. Most children that are eating a balanced diet don't require a multivitamin.

For the drop versions parents can drop directly into the child's mouth, put on a finger, mothers nipple or on a pacifier to be licked by the baby or it can be added directly in a bottle of milk.

Make sure that you keep the medication away from curious hands. Vitamin D drops are not usually dangerous in overdose, but should best be kept out of arms reach to your child. Overdose of a multivitamin can cause serious damage to a child.

What foods have vitamin D?

Though more difficult to do, some people are able to take enough vitamin D from food sources. I recommend finding a balance between feeding your children (and yourself) vitamin D in the diet with some minimal supplementation. Look for foods that are vitamin D fortified such as milk and soy products and orange juice. Vitamin D in milk -- one cup of milk or soy milk has about 100 IU. Unless your child is drinking four full cups (1L!) of milk per day, other vitamin D containing foods or supplementation is needed to reach the goal of 400 IU a day. Vitamin D is also found naturally in oily fish, liver, cheese, eggs and beef. However, to get the recommended daily amount of vitamin D, a child would require large portions of these foods (about 4 oz of fatty fish for example).


• Breastfed and partially breastfed babies should be supplemented with 400 IU of vitamin D per day

• Start supplementing within the first month of life

• Non-breastfeeding babies should receive 400 IU per day of vitamin D unless receiving 32 oz of formula a day.

• Older children and adults should receive at least 400 IU per day of vitamin D, with an ideal combo from vitamin D containing foods and supplementation.

• If your child has a condition that predisposes to vitamin D or calcium loss, please consult your physician to determine how much vitamin D he or she should take.