The issue of giving children vitamins has been a topic in the news lately and parents are wondering whether they should give their little ones a daily supplement. Some physicians are suggesting vitamin drops for babies; others say it’s not necessary. What is a parent to do? To help you make an informed decision, here are the current recommendations and latest research to discuss with your child’s pediatrician.
If your baby drinks commercial infant formula, the vitamin and mineral supplements are added to the formula. Breastfed babies should be supplemented with Vitamin D, especially if they get limited sun exposure—as in the northern half of the United States—if Mom has darker pigmented skin or if sunscreen is used. It’s also recommended that fluoride be given to breastfed and formula-fed babies in non-fluoridated communities or when bottled water is used to mix formula. Pediatricians are aware of the needs for these supplements and should advise you accordingly.
Now, what about when baby becomes a fussy toddler and seems to be refusing every food on his plate?
Before a baby starts to feed himself, he will eat most anything you put on his spoon. But when he starts to feed himself and choose what he will eat, there may be foods on that plate that he leaves behind. If you have provided foods that are nutritious, such as a soft fruit or vegetable and whole-grain cereal or bread, he will probably meet his vitamin requirements without much difficulty. However, it you put a toaster pastry or other highly processed food in front of him, he may not. Toddlers who drink large amounts of liquids, like milk or juice from bottles throughout the day, may also be lacking an adequate vitamin intake. So begin by only offering nutrient-rich foods.
Remember, small children don’t eat very much nor do they need lots of food. So while your child may look like he’s not eating enough, it’s probably a correct amount for his size. I repeat: make sure what he is eating is a whole food, not a processed food.
The most recent studies on the need for vitamins conclude that most of the children who receive supplements are those who already eat a varied and healthy diet. Those children in jeopardy usually live in households where food budgets are small, appropriate food intake is questionable and families may not take part in nutrition programs offered to those in need. Parents can ensure that their children eat healthy meals—at least until they head off to school and start trading their sandwiches for cookies!
If you’re unsure whether your little one needs vitamins, ask the pediatrician to take a simple blood test to see if a supplement would be beneficial. He can then prescribe what is appropriate to your child’s needs. Many children are slightly anemic—meaning they’re lacking in iron—and can be helped by an inexpensive iron supplement rather than a costly vitamin pill. Also, please do not give your child herbs, “special” teas or any other preparation without consulting the doctor. Many of these so-called remedies are not evaluated for safety and may be unsafe for children.
Many parents think it’s better to give a multivitamin “just in case.” If your child does not need a supplement, he will just eliminate it—and your dollars will go down the toilet, so to speak. So, work with the pediatrician, find a pediatric nutritionist or make sure you offer lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in many colors, a protein (such as cheese, tofu, meat or eggs) and whole-grain cereals and breads. Just taking that step will most likely alleviate your concerns—and the question: “Does my child need a multivitamin?”
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.