Vitamin D is essential for babies when it comes to growth and development, helping them develop strong healthy bones and teeth.
If babies have very low levels of vitamin D, they are deficient and are more at risk of developing rickets than those who are not deficient. Rickets is a disease that affects how the bones grow and develop and, due to a severe vitamin D deficiency, can cause the bones to deform.
There has been a recent increase in cases of rickets in infants across Ireland, indicating that levels of vitamin D are low nationwide.
Several factors have contributed to this:
1. Lack of exposure to sunlight
Vitamin D is mainly produced in the body when a person is exposed to sunlight. Because of Ireland’s northerly position, from November to March there is an insufficient amount and quality of sunlight to allow vitamin D to be produced in the body. Even on sunny days during the winter, the rays coming from the sun are not the correct type to trigger vitamin D production in the body.
2. Skin tone
People with darker skin living in Ireland and even more at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency as they require 10-50 times more sunlight to produce vitamin D in the body.
3. Dietary sources
People in Ireland do not consume sufficient amounts of foods containing vitamin D to make up for the lack of sunlight, and sufficient amounts are also not including in weaning diets for infants.
Foods containing vitamin D:
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
- Egg yolks
- Breakfast cereals
Offal meat such as liver and kidney are a good source of vitamin D, however these foods are not suitable for consumption by infants of pregnant women as they contain too much vitamin A.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland recommends the following:
- All babies living in Ireland should be given a vitamin D only supplement providing 5ug vitamin D from birth. Babies aged 0-12 months are at a high risk of vitamin D deficiency due to their rapid growth rates during this time
- Supplements that provide only vitamin D and are in a suitable form for infants should be given to infants in Ireland. The daily amount of vitamin D provided by these supplements should be 5ug per day
- It is important for both health professionals and parents to be made aware of the very prevalent vitamin D deficiency in Ireland, particularly among infants with darker skin and young children