This week is world breastfeeding week.
Breastfeeding is one of the most perfect forms of food for a baby though it has long been "understood" to be an inadequate source of vitamin D.
How can that be?
If you know that most
women of childbearing age are vitamin D deficient
, it starts to make sense that they wouldn't have the vitamin D available to pass on in their breast milk.
Is it really that simple - if you give women enough vitamin D will they pass it on to the baby?
Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) tackled this question with the hypothesis that if a breastfeeding mom receives much more than the standard 400 IU/day of vitamin D, she will be able to pass on an adequate amount of vitamin D to her infant. After a double-blind randomized controlled trial they found that a daily vitamin D supplement of 6,400 IU did indeed allow the mothers to pass enough vitamin D through breast milk so that their babies did not need a vitamin D supplement! The average 25(OH)D level of the women who received 6,400 IU/day was about 60 ng/ml (150 nmol/L). The infants breastfed from these mothers had the equivalent of the 400 IU/day that is currently recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Sure, you can give babies a supplement, but only 2-19% of the infants are given a supplement. This suggests that over 80% of babies are not getting the recommended amount of vitamin D.
You can expose babies to sunshine, but your pediatrician has probably told you to keep your baby out of direct sunlight for at least the first 6 months and to make sure they are covered with clothing or sunscreen when they do go outside. (We don't recommend this.)
This is a problem! Not enough D in breast milk, no supplementation, and no sun puts far too many babies at risk of vitamin D deficiency, and at increased risk of many future diseases such as allergies, asthma, autism, cancer, cardiovascular disease
We are now
working with MUSC
on a new standard of care for the pregnant women--getting the serum levels to at least 40-60 ng/ml. We need to take the next step: make sure that the breastfed baby ALSO has enough vitamin D. The easiest way to do that is for the mom to keep her serum levels between 40-60 ng/ml while she breastfeeds the infant.