Is my child getting enough vitamin D?

Is your toddler getting enough sun and oily fish? And is your breastfed baby getting enough vitamin D? Here's how you can boost your child's vitamin D intake.

Vitamin D is vital for healthy bones and teeth, but a shocking 1 in 4 toddlers aren't getting enough vitamin D from the sun and their diets, according to the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey. And breastfeeding mums may need to take vitamin D supplements.

Rickets is also on the rise in kids, which causes bones to soften and bend due to a lack of vitamin D. As a result of this and the latest findings, the health watchdog NICE suggests that all children under 5 should take vitamin D supplements, unless they're having more than 500ml of infant formula a day. The Chief Medical Officer in the UK, Professor Dame Sally Davies also said the government will be reviewing the issue:

'We know a significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood.'

'People at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under five, are already advised to take daily supplements.

'Our experts are clear - low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children.

'Many health professionals such as midwives, GPs and nurses give advice on supplements, and it is crucial they continue to offer this advice as part of routine consultations and ensure disadvantaged families have access to free vitamin supplements through our Healthy Start scheme.

'It is important to raise awareness of this issue, and I will be contacting health professionals on the need to prescribe and recommend vitamin D supplements to at-risk groups.'

Professor Davies also said that the Department of Health had asked for some more research to be done into reviewing guidelines for getting vitamin D into your diet.

The best sources of vitamin D:

The Department of Health says most people should be able to get enough vitamin D from going out in the sun more and by eating a balanced diet containing oily fish and eggs.

The best source of vitamin D is from the sun and we get more than 90% of our vitamin D from it, but on grey days we keep our kids indoors for fear of them getting wet or muddy and during summer we slather them in suncream to protect them from harmful rays. Experts say we should get between 20 - 30 minutes' worth of summer sun, 2 or 3 times a week, between 10am and 3pm, depending on your skin type - but that full sun protection should be worn after this. Find out the benefits of vitamin D.

These foods also contain lots of vitamin D:

The Department of Health recommends that the following people take daily vitamin D supplements:

  • All children aged 6 months to 5 years old
  • All pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • All people aged 65 and over
  • People who are not exposed to much sun, such as people who cover up their skin for cultural reasons or those who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods
  • People with darker skin tones such as people of African-Caribbean and South Asian origin

Vitamin D for babies under 6 months old:

Babies get vitamin D from infant formula and breast milk, so it's important for breastfeeding mums to have enough vitamin D for their baby and themselves. If you're breastfeeding, doctors advise you to take 10 micrograms (0.01mg) of vitamin D every day. Vitamin D drops for your baby are also available, but speak to your health visitor or GP before using them.

Vitamin D supplements:

You don't need vitamin D every day as your body will store it for when it is needed. Doctors advise pregnant or breastfeeding women to take 10 micrograms (0.01mg) of vitamin D every day. Otherwise, eating a varied diet that includes fish, eggs and fortified cereals will give you all you need, so try eating at least 1 meal a week containing these foods.

Children and adults should not take too much vitamin D. The Department of Health says that 25 micrograms (0.025mg) or less a day of vitamin D supplements is OK.

Where can I get vitamin D supplements?

You can buy single vitamin D supplements and multivitamins cheaply from chemists, child health clinics or are free for under 5s if you're receiving income support or an income-based Job Seeker's Allowance.

But if you're worried that your child isn't getting enough vitamin D or have concerns about your child's diet, it's best to discuss these with your health visitor or GP rather than resorting to over-the-counter vitamin supplements.

Your GP will be able to test your child's blood and find out exactly how much vitamin D they're lacking and can prescribe the correct amount in supplement form.

Where to next?

- More advice on vitamin D

- Kids recipes

- Baby food recipes

Freelance writer