My 3 year old has a pretty healthy diet but I am always worried about whether he is getting enough vitamins and minerals. Do I need to give him vitamins, and if so which ones are best?
Yes, the current UK recommendation is for all children aged 6 months to 5 years to take an A, C and D vitamin supplement regardless of what they eat.
A vitamin supplement containing vitamin D and folic acid, but not vitamin A, is recommended in pregnancy, and for breastfeeding mums vitamin D supplementation should continue.
Where there has been no supplementation or there is a risk mum may be deficient in vitamin D (e.g. mums who tend to stay indoors or whose skin is covered outdoors and those with darker skin – as this does not produce as much vitamin D) then babies should start a supplement at 1 month of age.
For infants who are less than 1 year old and taking more than 500ml (20oz) infant formula a day, then they don’t need to start the vitamins until they are 1 year, as the vitamins are already added in the formula.
For mixed feeding (breast and formula), if the total amount of formula is less than 500ml a day, then supplements are required from 6 months.
What do Vitamins A, C and D do?
- Vitamin D is needed to help the body absorb calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones and teeth from our diet. Vitamin D deficiency can cause soft and weak bones which can lead to bone deformities such as rickets. Rickets is starting to increase again in the UK population. It is difficult to get enough Vitamin D from the diet alone; we also get it from sunshine on our skin. It is, however, more important to protect skin and cover it/use sun screens, so this increases the likelihood of inadequate Vitamin D levels.
- Vitamin A strengthens the immune system, can help vision in dim light, and maintains healthy skin.
- Vitamin C is important for general health and the immune system. It can also help the body absorb iron.
As ever you can have too much of a good thing, some vitamins are toxic in high doses. To avoid this, follow the recommended dose stated on the label and be careful not to give your child two supplements at the same time. For example, don’t give them cod liver oil and vitamin drops, as cod liver oil also contains vitamins A and D. One supplement on its own is strong enough. Check with your pharmacist or health visitor if you are unsure about vitamins. Be careful to store chewy style vitamins out of the reach of children, to stop them eating the whole pack!
You can get vitamins from many places such as the pharmacy, supermarket and they are available free via Healthy Start for those on income support – including vitamins for pregnant mums, breastfeeding mums and children under 5 years.
For some medical conditions there may be different recommendations by the medical team regarding vitamins e.g. pre-term infants and those identified with a deficiency.