As a parent, it’s hard not to notice all the vitamin supplements for kids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 34% of children and teens take vitamin supplements.
So, you may wonder: Does my child need a multivitamin?
If your child is healthy and they eat a well-balanced diet, they don’t need to take a daily multivitamin. That’s the recommendation from both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.
If your child is healthy and growing well but is a “picky” eater, here’s why you shouldn’t worry:
- Many foods are fortified with the most common vitamins your child needs. That means vitamins such as A, C, D, and B are often added to common and kid-friendly foods. This includes milk, yogurt, nut milks, orange juice, breads, cereals, and frozen waffles.
- Children only need to eat a small amount from the basic food groups to get the vitamins they need.
- Your body stores many vitamins for later use. So, your child doesn’t need to have each vitamin each day to stay healthy. As long as they eat a balanced diet over the course of a week, they should get the vitamins their body needs.
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Which Vitamin Supplements Do Children Need?
The AAP doesn’t recommend a daily multivitamin for most children. But it does recommend vitamin D and iron supplements at certain points in a child’s life. That’s because these nutrients play a critical role in growth and development.
Vitamin D helps keep your immune system, muscles, lungs, and heart healthy. It also is important to build and keep bones strong.
Our bodies can make vitamin D when our skin gets exposed to sunlight. But many kids don’t get enough vitamin D through sunlight alone. This is especially true for those who live in northern latitudes or those who have darker skin.
Adequate intake of vitamin D can be challenging to achieve through diet alone. Vitamin D occurs naturally in high enough amounts in only a handful of foods. This includes mushrooms, salmon, tuna, and sardines — not exactly a kid’s favorite foods. Egg yolks provide only a small amount of vitamin D. Your child may get some vitamin D through fortified foods, such as milk and cereals.
Research estimates that 15% of children ages 1 to 11 years old and 17% of teens have vitamin D deficiency.
That’s why the AAP recommends this amount of daily vitamin D supplements:
- For babies up to age 1 — 400 international units (IU).
The AAP recommends feeding babies only breastmilk for the first six months of life because of its many benefits.
Breastmilk has a natural balance of vitamins, especially vitamins C, E, and B. But breastmilk doesn’t contain any vitamin D. Because of that, breastfed babies need 400 IU or equal dose of a liquid vitamin D supplement daily. Start giving them this a few days after they are born until they reach age one.
Babies who drink more than 32 ounces a day of baby formula with added vitamin D do not need a vitamin D supplement. But if your baby gets less than 32 ounces of vitamin-D fortified baby formula a day, they’ll also need 400 IU of vitamin D daily.
- For toddlers, older children, and teens — 600 IU
Children over 1 year of age need 600 IU (15 mcg) of vitamin D daily, either through food or a supplement.
Children at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency
Some children have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency or need higher doses of vitamin D. These include children taking certain medications, children who are obese, and children with chronic diseases like cystic fibrosis. Your child’s medical provider can help decide how much your child needs. Never exceed the recommended dose.
Iron helps your body make healthy red blood cells. The AAP recommends all babies get screened at 12 months for iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia.
Other factors may require you to give your child iron supplements earlier in infancy. These include:
- A complication during pregnancy.
- Premature birth.
- Low birth weight.
Your pediatrician will discuss if, when, and how much iron supplementation your child needs. Give them this amount until they can eat baby foods that contain iron, like meat, green leafy vegetables, and iron-fortified cereal.
Should You Worry About Nutrient Deficiency in Children?
Most children get the vitamins they need from what they eat and drink. Most aren’t vitamin deficient. Their body doesn’t lack the vitamins they need to grow.
Certain children may face a higher risk of vitamin deficiency. Children on a special diet or with a genetic or chronic medical condition that affects what they can eat or how their body absorbs nutrients may need certain vitamin supplements. This includes food allergies/intolerances, cystic fibrosis, Celiac disease, or inflammatory bowel disease.
Also, according to the U.S Dietary Guidelines, teens aged 14 to 18 face a greater risk of having a diet that doesn’t meet their nutritional needs. Adolescent females are especially at risk.
Always talk to your child’s doctor or pediatrician if you have concerns. Ask them before giving your child any supplement. They can discuss what may be affecting your child’s health and investigate medical conditions and nutritional factors affecting their growth and development. They also can make recommendations to address those issues.
Tips for taking vitamins
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate vitamins and other dietary supplements to make sure they are safe or effective. It’s up to manufacturers to follow safety guidelines and accurately label what’s in their product. Here are some tips for giving vitamin supplements to children.
- Follow label directions for use in children. Give only the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for your child’s age. Most children already get vitamins from their diet, so they may need less than this.
- Don’t give your child more than the RDA dose for their age. Giving your child more can lead to toxic symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, rashes, and headaches. In some cases, megadoses of vitamins can cause serious and even fatal medical problems.
- In general, vitamins are not necessary. Exceptions include vitamin D and iron supplements in specific situations.
- To choose a safer supplement, look for one verified by U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab, or the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). These organizations verify the quality and accuracy of what’s in dietary supplements.
- Keep all supplements out of a child’s reach, in either a locked cabinet or closet. This can prevent accidental overdose.
Remember, a balanced diet is the best way to ensure your child is getting all the nutrients they need, including vitamin D and iron. This means eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. In certain situations, a vitamin supplement may be helpful or needed.
If you’re considering giving your child a vitamin, talk to their pediatric health care provider. Make sure it’s safe and appropriate for their needs.
Where We Stand: Vitamin Supplements for Children? American Academy of Pediatrics. Where We Stand: Vitamin Supplements for Children - HealthyChildren.org
Where We Stand: Vitamin D & Iron Supplements for Babies. American Academy of Pediatrics. Link. Where We Stand: Vitamin D & Iron Supplements for Babies - HealthyChildren.org
A Vitamin a Day? American Academy of Pediatrics. Link. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/nutrition-fitness/Pages/A-Vitamin-a-Day.aspx?_ga=2.254794568.1912933587.1675799262-227802773.1668713610&_gl=1*198pwb1*_ga*MjI3ODAyNzczLjE2Njg3MTM2MTA.*_ga_FD9D3XZVQQ*MTY3NTc5OTI2Mi44LjEuMTY3NTgwMDE2MC4wLjAuMA..
Dietary Supplement Use in Children and Adolescents Aged ≤19 Years — United States, 2017–2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6943a1.htm
Anemia in Children and Teens: Parent FAQs. American Academy of Pediatrics. Link. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chronic/Pages/Anemia-and-Your-Child.aspx
Connect with UPMC
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.