why vitamin d is important
Health and safety

Why vitamin D is important

Babies between the age of birth to 12 months grow at a rapid pace and have a greater need for vitamin D to form strong bones. Studies have shown that here in Ireland many people have a deficiency of vitamin D in Irish children so it’s likely that many Irish children have less than healthy levels.

Why vitamin D is important

Due to our dismal weather in Ireland – especially in recent months – we are seriously lacking sunshine on these shores. We all know of the dangers of spending too much time in the sun, but some people don’t know that it’s important to have a little exposure in order to keep our levels of vitamin D topped up.

Not surprisingly, studies have shown that here in Ireland many people have a deficiency of vitamin D in Irish children, so it’s likely that many Irish children have less than healthy levels. Our bodies essentially make vitamin D from the sun, so growing families in Ireland are serious lacking what is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’.

As vitamin D is vital as it helps our bodies to absorb calcium, which in turn helps to build and maintain strong bones and teeth, it is important to find suitable supplementation especially for infants in Ireland. In particular, growing babies between the age of birth to 12 months have a greater need for Vitamin D.

Research conducted by the Health Service Executive in Ireland (HSE) shows that in general mothers and babies in Ireland have very low levels of vitamin D. In severe case low levels can cause rickets in children and there has been an increase in the number of cases of this being diagnosed in Ireland in recent years. When sunlight hits our skin, the ultra-violet B (UVB) sun rays are used to make vitamin D. However, it is not possible for babies to safely get the vitamin D they need from the sun as they should not be exposed to direct sunlight.

why vitamin d is important

Babies need vitamin D

From birth, babies will need to take vitamin D everyday to make up for the low level in their food. To ensure that all babies get enough vitamin D they should be given a vitamin D supplement. In general, it is recommended that you give your baby one dose of vitamin D every day from birth to 12 months, whether breastfed or formula fed or taking solid foods. If at any stage you forget to give your baby vitamin D, you may start again the following day.

It is important to note, that very high amounts of vitamin D are harmful to your baby so do not exceed one dose per day. However, always read the product instructions carefully and ask your pharmacist, doctor, dietitian or nurse for advice if you are unsure the correct dosage as each product varies.

Research also shows that vitamin D plays an important role in helping the immune system. It may also help prevent illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis as well as some forms of cancer.

The importance of Vitamin D

Midwife and Gentlebirth practitioner, Tracy Donegan is well used to giving new mothers advice about the importance of Vitamin D. Here she lists why it is necessary to ensure the next generation doesn’t suffer from a deficiency.

• The negative side effects from a Vitamin D deficiency include weakened immune system, hormonal imbalance, emotional health issues, weak bones and teeth.

• A serious deficiency can also increase the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

• Breastfed babies need additional vitamin D because mums generally don’t have high enough levels themselves to pass to their baby and we don’t usually get it from food so there is extra added to formula.

• Irish weather makes it difficult to get enough vitamin D, and of course when the weather is great we wear sunscreen, which blocks about 95% of our vitamin D production.

• The best place to get vitamin D is from sunlight, but if you’ve just had a baby you might not be getting any sunlight on your skin. Ideally 20-30 minutes a day (or an hour for darker skin) is recommended.

• Vitamin D is found in a small range of foods including oily fish, egg yolks and fortified foods such as milk, breakfast cereals and infant formula.

• Darker skinned people living in Ireland are particularly at risk as they require more sunlight to produce vitamin D.

• Mum’s might consider taking extra Vitamin D if they are breastfeeding and the baby gets it as well as mum rather than just giving baby the Vitamin D levels.

• Talk to your GP about the different options.

More info www.hse.ie/eng/health/ child/vitaminD www.gentlebirth.ie

why vitamin d is important

What to buy, where to get it and how much dosage is necessary?

The HSE recommends that all babies are given a vitamin D supplement and a spokeswoman for the department explains what to buy, where to get it and how much dosage is necessary.

1. Research shows that vitamin D plays an important role in helping the immune system. It may also help prevent illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis as well as some forms of cancer.

2. To ensure that all babies get enough vitamin D they should be given 5 micrograms of vitamin D every day from birth to 12 months, whether breastfed or formula fed or taking solid foods.

3. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the preferred form of vitamin D for infants. The vitamin D3 product you use should be in a liquid form suitable for infants and contain only vitamin D3. Products that contain other vitamins as well as vitamin D (such as multivitamin products) should not be used.

4. There are a number of suitable infant vitamin D products available to buy in Ireland which provide the correct kind of vitamin D.

5. Very large doses of vitamin D may make your baby ill. Only one dose per day should be given.

6. If you forget to give your baby their daily Vitamin D, then start again the next day but do not give more than one dose per day.

7. Vitamin D products suitable for babies are food supplements so you don’t need a prescription to buy them. These products are not available on the medical card or any other state drug scheme.

8. You can buy the products in pharmacies, some supermarkets and other outlets. It is important that you buy products that are suitable for babies and contain vitamin D only.

More you might like:

Vital benefits of multivitamins
Complete guide to summer safety
Sun safety

ASK LOUISE

Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….

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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.