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Nutrition is of the utmost importance throughout a woman’s pregnancy and while breastfeeding to ensure mother and child are getting all their essential nutrients. One such nutrient to pay attention to is Vitamin D, which plays a critical role in development and continued health.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble Vitamin, which means the body stores it for use later on.  The main source of Vitamin D is from daily unprotected exposure to the sun, but it’s not always easy to be outside as the seasons change.  Also, one recent study found that to get the optimal amount of Vitamin D from the sun, Caucasians would have to spend all day outside with 30% of their body or more exposed.  African Americans and Hispanics need even more exposure to the sun as their skin has more melanin.  We also get some of our Vitamin D through the consumption of fortified foods like dairy products or cereal as well as eggs and fatty fish, like salmon. But the reality is that most Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, and that includes children and babies. Most of us should be taking a supplement  to ensure that we have enough of this vitamin.

So why is Vitamin D so important? First and foremost, Vitamin D helps the bones develop properly. It does this by assisting the body in the absorption of essential minerals like calcium and magnesium, which make up the majority of the bones’ structure. Without these nutrients, growth can be stunted, children are at a greater risk for rickets and the bones can become brittle and weak. This is why Vitamin D is needed throughout one’s life. Women are more likely to develop osteopenia and osteoporosis as they age, which can cause fractures and breaks in the bones. Vitamin D can help prevent and/or counteract these effects.

Vitamin D is also a key player in the body’s own natural defenses against illness, the immune system. The immune system is a network of organs within the body that includes the lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen. Vitamin D works to trigger the correct response from the immune system when a pathogen is encountered, which could otherwise lead to a viral or bacterial infection. Making sure you and your child have adequate Vitamin D in your diet will keep the body’s defenses on high alert through cold and flu season as well as the rest of the year.

The other benefits of Vitamin D include heart support and tissue health as well as proper neuromuscular function. Vitamin D helps the muscles develop to be lean and strong and function properly by assisting in protein synthesis. Adequate Vitamin D consumption will ensure your child grows up to be a strong, energetic child, adolescent and adult.

In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics  (AAP) doubled its recommendation for the amount of Vitamin D that all children should receive to 400 iU. per day.

The AAP states that babies and children who do not obtain 400 IU/day of Vitamin D through fortified milk (100 IU per 250mL serving) or through Vitamin D-fortified foods should receive a Vitamin D supplement of 400IU/day. Babies who drink more than 1000 mL (about 2 pints) of infant formula daily will not need Vitamin D supplementation.

The recommended daily supplement is:
Babies 0-1 year 400 IU **
Children aged 1-13 years 600 IU **

Pregnant women 1000IU **

Your daily prenatal vitamin should provide adequate Vitamin D, so be sure to read the label when shopping for a product. Your doctor can also determine through a blood test if you or your child need more Vitamin D in your diet and recommend an additional supplement if needed. Avoid taking any new supplements while pregnant or breastfeeding unless under the guidance of your physician.

Don’t miss out on the benefits of Vitamin D — go for a daily walk outside in the sunshine when you can and eat a balanced diet and take a Vitamin D supplement  to make sure and your baby are both getting the Vitamin D you need.

This great informative YouTube video summarises much of the current thinking on Vitamin D.

**Intake reference values for Vitamin D and other nutrients are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies (formerly National Academy of Sciences).


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