Nursing mothers can and should take vitamin D supplements.

Can Nursing Women Take Vitamin D Supplements?

by K.T. Parker

As a new mom, you know breastfeeding is the best option for you and your baby. Breast milk is full of good things, like immune boosters for your little one, and breastfeeding might even lower your risk of getting breast cancer, reports the American Pregnancy Association. As great as breast milk is, it does have a drawback. It might not have enough vitamin D, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While rare, some vitamin D-deficient infants are at risk for developing rickets, a has-been disease attempting a comeback. According to the Vitamin D Council, you should definitely be supplementing while nursing, for both you and your baby's health.

1. Lowdown on Low D

You and your infant are most at risk of being vitamin D deficient if you have darker skin, which makes it harder to synthesize vitamin D from natural sunlight exposure. You're also at risk if you live at higher elevations without as much direct sunlight, or in an area with high pollution levels that obscure sunlight. And if you're deficient, your baby is more likely to have low vitamin D levels too, according to KellyMom.com. How likely are you to have inadequate reserves? Well, the Harvard School of Public Health estimates at least 1 billion people worldwide suffer from vitamin D deficiency.

2. Boning Up

Vitamin D performs many crucial functions for you and your baby, including bone growth, muscle replication, immune system support and calcium absorption. It takes a lot of calcium to grow a little human -- as much as 250 milligrams per day in the last trimester -- so your body has lower levels than before pregnancy. Add in another 300 milligrams that you transfer to baby daily, coupled with an overall bone loss of 3 to 5 percent by the time you wean, and you could be at risk for calcium depletion, making vitamin D a critical supplement while nursing.

3. What Baby Needs

Experts disagree on how much vitamin D supplementation your infant requires. According to the Vitamin D Council, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Food and Nutrition Board both recommend 400 international units, or IU, daily. However, the Vitamin D Council also notes that the Endocrine Society recommends up to 1,000 IU daily, and the Vitamin D Council concurs with that amount, adding an upper daily limit of 2,000 IU for infants. If that isn't confusing enough, you have another decision to make. Do you take extra supplements to pass along vitamin D in your milk, or do you give them to baby too?

4. What You Need

If you don't want to bother giving your infant vitamin D directly, you can simplify. The Vitamin D Council says you don't need to give her supplements if you take adequate amounts, because enough transfers in your breast milk. For that purpose, research published in 2006 in "Breastfeeding Medicine" showed that moms taking 6,400 IU of vitamin D daily had enough vitamin D to ensure that both mother and baby had optimal levels. The Vitamin D Council recommends giving your infant an oral supplement if you take less than 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily.

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