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How Much Vitamin D Does Your Child Need?

Tanya Altmann, MD

It’s been a little while since I had a “blonde moment” during an expert interview, but this one was pretty funny. I was in the middle of a podcast with Dr. Tanya Altmann, media personality and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, about vitamin D – when I thought I heard her say that there were now special formulas of vitamin D for incense.

I knew that Dr. Altmann practiced medicine in Southern California, so I wasn’t terribly surprised about this new method of vitamin delivery. However, I hadn’t heard about vitamin D inhalation previously, so I asked her to explain how this new incense formula worked.

She paused to gather her thoughts and then corrected me: “No, I was saying that there’s a new formula for INFANTS…”

Oh. My bad.

So here’s the rest of our delightful interview. You may want to listen to the podcast, though I did edit out the awkward “incense” section so as not to start a new cult. One doesn’t want to give others too many ideas on the Internet! I hope that Dr. Tanya won’t think less of me for that misunderstanding.

Dr. Val: What is vitamin D, and why do we need it?

Dr. Tanya: Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for your entire body. Although it’s called a vitamin it actually functions as more of a hormone, playing an important role in the immune system. Vitamin D can help to protect people against illness, diabetes, and even cancer, though its role in helping to build strong bones (and protect infants from rickets) is probably its best known attribute.

Dr. Val: Tell me about the new AAP guidelines for infants, children and adolescents. Why did they change?

Dr. Tanya: Based on data collected in several recent research studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines last month which essentially doubled the recommended daily amount of vitamin D (from 200 to 400 IUs) for infants, children, and adolescents. Historically people were able to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D through sun exposure (the body can create vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight), but now that we need to protect kids from sun’s harmful rays due to future skin cancer risk, vitamin D levels have dropped significantly. Sunscreen, of course, blocks the sun from stimulating the creation of vitamin D in the skin.

Dr. Val: How can kids get enough Vitamin D? (Are there supplements that can be given? Which ones can be trusted?)

Dr. Tanya: Milk is the best food source of vitamin D. It’s really quite difficult to get enough vitamin D without consuming dairy products. One cup of milk has about 100 IUs of vitamin D. We recommend that all children over age 1 get 3 servings of dairy products a day, or the equivalent of 4 cups of milk a day. If they aren’t getting that much, we do recommend a vitamin supplement.

Dr. Val: What kind of supplements are safe and effective?

Dr. Tanya: Parents need to ask their pediatricians for specific recommendations. However, most infant formulas of vitamin D contain 400 IUs of vitamin D per milliliter. It’s easy to just squirt it into your baby’s mouth once a day just prior to nursing or giving them their bottle. I have two young boys and have tried a few different formulations of the vitamin D liquid. Some taste better than others, and some kids are pickier than others about flavor, so you have to find one that your child likes.

Dr. Val: What’s the most important “take home message” you’d like to get across to my readers (and listeners) about vitamin D?

Dr. Tanya: Parents should ask for advice from their pediatricians regarding the best source of vitamin D for their child. If you’re nursing, or if your infant is not taking in at least 32 ounces of formula a day, it’s important to start them on a vitamin D supplement beginning in the first four days of life.

Toddlers seem to really enjoy the chewable vitamin D supplements – but parents should make sure that they keep the bottle out of their reach since they may mistake them for candy. Teens and adults need to make sure they get 3 servings of dairy products a day, or else they should consider a vitamin D supplement as well.

Dr. Val: Tell me about your new book.

Dr. Tanya: Mommy Calls answers the most common questions that parents ask their pediatricians in their child’s first three years of life. Questions like “It’s 3am in the morning and my child has a fever of 103, what should I do?” or “My child hasn’t pooped for three days, what do I do?” It’s a fun, humorous little book that you can carry in your baby bag and it contains the exact advice I tell parents every day and night when they call me.

**Listen to the podcast of our interview here.**

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2 Responses to “How Much Vitamin D Does Your Child Need?”

  1. Jacqueline says:

    I enjoyed your pod cast — you should have left in the incense bit – that’s funny! As I read more and more and try to figure out how best to make sure my 2 and 6-year old kids receive enough vitamin D, I’m waking up to the fact that vitamin D deficiency is really something that affects the entire family. I really wish in the warnings for parents about what to do for their children, it could be mentioned what adults can do for their own health. I read somewhere that the reason why breastfed babies don’t get enough vitamin D from breastmilk is because their mothers don’t get enough vitamin D. Is this true? And FYI, my signature link has an article I especially liked from a holistic women’s health site on the topic of vit D and women.

  2. Allison says:

    I have a three yr old and she has always had a problem with constipation. Sometimes she will go a week without a bowl movement! I always worry about her. She has milk with her cereal every mourning. I think it's the milk causing her problem. How can I make sure she gets enough vitiman D?

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