You asked

Why do I have to give vitamin D to my baby?

As of 21st February 2011, the HSE is recommending that you give your baby 5 micrograms (5µg) of vitamin D3 every day, irrespective of whether you are breastfeeding or formula feeding your baby.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D assists our bodies to use calcium to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Adults and children have low levels of vitamin D which can lead to weak bones.   Some severe cases, where vitamin D is very low, can cause rickets (*) in children. There has been an increase in the number of cases of rickets in Ireland in recent years.
Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because our bodies can make vitamin D from our exposure to the sun. When sunlight hits our skin, the ultra-violet B (UVB) 
sun rays are used to make vitamin D. However, it is not possible for babies to safely get the vitamin D they need from the sun and with the increasing concern about skin damage children are spending less time in the sun and if they are, they are frequently covered with high UVB protection sun creams.
Why does my baby need Vitamin D?
Your baby needs vitamin D supplements for a number of reasons. 
  • Firstly, their skin is so sensitive to the sun and they are not being exposed to direct sunlight. 
  • Additionally, their food (be it formula, breast milk or solid foods) may not have enough vitamin D in it. 
  • Babies between the age of 0 to 12 months grow very quickly and have a greater need for vitamin D to form strong bones.
Babies with African, Afro-Caribbean, Middle- Eastern or Indian ethnic backgrounds are at even higher risk of having low levels of vitamin D. Their stores of vitamin D may be particularly low when born as their mothers’ skin may not be as efficient at making vitamin D from the amount and type of sunlight in Ireland.      
Remember, even if you are pregnant and taking a multi-vitamin under doctor’s advice, your new born baby will still need vitamin D because they do not get enough from their food.
What type of Vitamin D should I give my baby?
Vitamin D3 is the preferred form of vitamin D for infants. The vitamin D3 product you use should be in a liquid form suitable for infants and contain only vitamin D3. Products that contain other vitamins as well as vitamin D (such as multivitamin products) should not be used.
Why are we being asked to give our babies Vitamin D now?
The evidence is that children and mothers in Ireland have low levels of vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D leads to weak bones. In severe cases low levels of vitamin D can cause rickets in children and osteomalacia (**) in adults. There have been a growing number of cases of rickets diagnosed in Ireland in recent years.
Research is also showing that vitamin D plays an important role in helping the immune system. It may also help prevent illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis as well as some forms of cancer.
HSE Recommendation: To ensure that ALL babies get enough vitamin D they should be given 5 micrograms (5μg) of vitamin D3 every day from birth to 12 months. This is the advice, whether they are breastfed, formula fed or taking solid foods.
The vitamin D product used should contain only Vitamin Dand be in a liquid form suitable for infants.
If your doctor has already prescribed vitamins for your baby you should ask their advice before giving your baby any additional vitamin products.
What dosage should I give my baby?
The current recommendation is 5 micrograms (5μg) once a day – from birth to 12 months. There are a number of suitable infant vitamin D3 products available to buy in Ireland. These provide the correct kind of vitamin D3.
What suitable vitamin D3 products are available to buy in Ireland?
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has a list of Vitamin D3 products suitable for infants that are currently available on the Irish market.  One such product is Abidec Vitamin D3 drops which is available in pharmacies nationwide and retails at €7.95.  
Ensure that you read the instruction leaflet carefully to understand how much of your preferred source of Vitamin D3 to give your baby. If in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice. Give your baby the correct dose directly into their mouth.
Please note that very large doses of vitamin D3 may make your baby ill. Only one dose per day should be given.
Are there any risks associated with giving my baby too much Vitamin D3?
Very high amounts of vitamin D are harmful. The recommended 5 micrograms (5μg) vitamin D a day is very safe for babies. Harmful effects only begin at levels that are five times higher than this recommended dose.
You need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and give the correct dose. If the vitamin D3 product is given in the correct amount (according to the manufacturer’s instructions) there are no risks to babies. Giving the correct amount is very important.
If you forget to give your baby their daily Vitamin D3, then start again the next day but do not give more than one dose per day.
Do I need to give my baby other vitamins?
No. The only vitamin we recommend to give all babies is vitamin D3. Premature infants or infants who are under on-going medical care may require other vitamins or a higher dose of Vitamin D3Multivitamin products or higher doses of vitamin D3 should only be given to your baby on the advice of your baby’s doctor, nurse or dietician.
Medical terms explained
(*) Rickets: soft bones in children. Rickets causes severe bone deformities such as bowed legs and spine curves.

(**) Osteomalacia: A softening of the bones due to a lack of vitamin D or a problem with the body's ability to break down and use this vitamin. It causes soft bones in adults, causes frequent bone fractures from minor injuries, muscle weakness and bone pain.
The HSE policy implements the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s (FSAI) recommendation, which has been endorsed by the Department of Health and Children.

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