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Perform an internet search about infant vitamin drops, and you’ll get a lesson in exactly what “conflicting opinions” look like:
“All babies needs vitamin drops! They’re essential!!”
“No babies need vitamin drops! They’re useless!!”
And, of course, you’ll find every opinion in between. So what’s the real story? Does your baby need vitamin drops or not?
Let’s get some answers, shall we?
Vitamin Drops and Breastfeeding
Yes, breastfeeding is best, and it supplies babies with virtually all of the essential vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy and thrive. That said, breastmilk is a little low on both vitamin D and iron (two nutrients that are critical to a baby’s growth and development).
Some pediatricians recommend that babies start receiving oral vitamin D and iron supplements within the first few days of life to prevent problems like rickets (caused by vitamin D deficiencies) and anemia (caused by iron deficiency). Others feel that starting vitamin drops closer to 4 months (the age when a baby’s own iron stores begin to drop) is fine. Consult your healthcare provider for further recommendations.
You can also make sure your breastmilk is as nutritious as possible by continuing to take your prenatal vitamins while you nurse. While this shouldn’t necessarily be a stand-in for infant vitamin drops, it’ll certainly help ensure that your breastmilk is rich in nutrients.
Note: Some breastfeeding advocates disagree with these recommendations (remember all the “conflicting opinions” I mentioned earlier?) They assert that while breastmilk contains less iron than infant formula, a baby’s body absorbs far more iron from breastmilk (50% – 70%) and far less iron from formula (3% – 12%). This would seem to indicate that breastmilk alone provides all the iron that a baby actually needs. See this Kelly Mom article for details, and be sure to discuss the info with your healthcare provider if you’re considering using it as medical advice.
Vitamin Drops and Formula Feeding
If your baby is formula fed, you won’t need to worry about offering vitamin drops at first. That’s because formula is heavily fortified with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D and iron. So baby who’s exclusively formula-fed will get all the vitamin D and iron she needs from her formula.
If you’re only partially formula-feeding, however, and offering some formula and some breast milk, you may want to go ahead and offer infant vitamin drops. Check with your healthcare provider if you’re uncertain.
Vitamin Drops and Starting Solids
When you start your baby on solids, it’s a whole new (nutritional) story. As your baby becomes familiar with solid food and eats more and more of it, she’ll take in less and less breastmilk or formula. So it’s critical to make sure that she’s getting enough nutrients (particularly iron) from other sources.
Baby cereal (one of the most common “first foods” for babies) is fortified with iron, making it a great choice. And some of the other foods you’ll be offering her are iron-rich, too — meat, leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes, etc. So as she gets less and less iron from breastmilk and formula, she’ll get more from the solid foods she’s eating.
Note: If you’re going to be making your own baby cereal, you’ll definitely want to think about offering an iron supplement to your baby, since your homemade cereal won’t be fortified with iron the way store-bought cereal is. See our Baby Cereal Recipes post for details.
Some babies will get all the iron they need from their food; others, though, will continue to need iron supplements. So how can you tell if your baby is getting enough iron or not?
Many pediatricians perform a routine blood test around the 9 month mark; this test checks a baby’s hemoglobin levels and can determine if the baby has iron-deficiency anemia or not. This is the best way to tell for certain whether or not your baby needs vitamin drops.
The Last Word: Consult Your Healthcare Provider!
Let me end by re-stating something I’ve already said a few times in this post: the person who can best advise you about your baby’s need for vitamin drops is your healthcare provider. It’s good to educate yourself by reading posts like this one, but in the end, your healthcare provider is the best adviser you have.
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