Parents of all babies, from birth to 12 months, are being advised to give their infants a daily vitamin D supplement to protect their growing bones. This advice comes to parents and guardians from the Health Service Executive, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, and the Department of Health and Children.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, but is present in very few foods. It is also known as the sunshine vitamin, because it is made in the body when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin. However, Ireland’s northerly latitude and lack of winter sunlight means that we cannot make enough vitamin D in this way.
Severe and prolonged vitamin D deficiency can cause softening of the bones or bone deformities, known as rickets in children or osteomalacia in adults. Less severe vitamin D deficiency also affects bone health, may increase the risk of osteoporosis, and some studies have also linked it to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes. Babies need a daily supplement of vitamin D because their delicate skin cannot be safely exposed to the sun, and because their feeds or diet alone do not provide enough of this important vitamin to ensure healthy bone growth.
The HSE has set up a dedicated web page which will answer the questions of parents and health professionals, and also outlines the suitable vitamin D products that are available in Ireland. An information leaflet for parents and factsheet for health professionals are also available. Visit www.hse.ie/go/vitaminD to read more, or call the HSE Infoline on 1850 241850 for an information leaflet on Vitamin D.