Sometimes we are asked about dietary supplements at nursery and one question that has cropped up recently is whether or not to give Vitamin D supplements to young children.
Our advice is always to discuss this with your GP or health visitor, but as childcarers, we do receive advice from health professionals, too.
Why is Vitamin D so important?
Vitamin D is needed to grow strong teeth and bones as well as the growth of healthy cells and the body’s immune system. As children are growing so fast, it is particularly important that they have enough of the vitamin in their bodies.
Without it, children become irritable, poorly and their bodies don’t develop properly. Up to a quarter of people in the UK have low levels of Vitamin D.
Humans need sunlight on their skin in order to manufacture Vitamin D. The sun is only hot enough in this country between April-September.
Why are we hearing so much about Vitamin D deficiency?
The advice to cover up in the sun and apply sunblock has caused levels of Vitamin D in children to drop. Whilst it’s true that sunburn is dangerous, 10 minutes in hot sun isn’t enough to cause burn damage, but it will trigger the manufacture of Vitamin D.
So what is the advice for parents and childcarers?
- Allow children 10 minutes outside in hot weather, before putting on sunscreen.
- In addition, the UK’s chief medical officer advises that the correct levels of supplements of Vitamin D are taken by:
- All pregnant and breast-feeding women.
- All children aged 6 months to 5 years.
- Babies on infant formula if they are on less than 500ml of formula a day.
- Breast-fed babies from the age of 4 weeks if their mother hasn’t been taking supplements throughout pregnancy.
- Ensure that you and your child eat plenty of foods which contain Vitamin D including oily fish, eggs and meat.
Parents may be eligible to receive free supplements – check by visiting www.healthystart.nhs.uk