Vitamin D and your baby

Vitamin D helps our bodies use calcium to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Low levels of vitamin D in pēpi (babies) and tamariki (children) can cause rickets.

Complications from low levels of vitamin D

Low levels of vitamin D in pēpi and tamariki can cause rickets. Rickets can result in:

  • weak bones
  • delayed walking
  • bowed legs
  • swollen wrists or ankles.

If untreated, rickets can lead to:

  • failure to grow
  • deformed or broken bones
  • pneumonia
  • seizures.

Every year a number of pēpi and tamariki in Aotearoa New Zealand are diagnosed with rickets.

Sources of vitamin D

Vitamin D is known as the 'sunshine vitamin' because our bodies can make it from the sun. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun are used to make vitamin D.

However, babies cannot safely get the vitamin D they need from the sun. Their skin is very sensitive and should not be exposed to direct sunlight.

While breast milk is the recommended food for your pēpi it is not a good source of vitamin D.

Babies at high risk of low vitamin D

Your pēpi is at high risk of vitamin D deficiency if they are breastfed and:

  • has naturally dark skin
  • you have been told that you are low in vitamin D
  • one or more of your tamariki has had rickets or seizures resulting from low blood calcium levels. 

Babies who are born preterm with low body weight might be vitamin D deficient. 

Babies who are breastfed over winter months in Aotearoa New Zealand may also be vitamin D deficient by late winter and spring.

Supplements for babies at risk of vitamin D deficiency

If your pēpi is at high risk of vitamin D deficiency, talk to your healthcare provider, doctor, or midwife. They can prescribe a vitamin D supplement that comes in drops.

Drops can either be:

  • put on your nipple before your baby latches on
  • given directly into your baby’s mouth using a dropper.