Should your child be taking vitamins?

Children's Health

by Shelley Watts, DO

Sep 14, 2023

If you're a parent, browsing the number of vitamins and supplements in the wellness aisle of the grocery store can be overwhelming. If you’re confused about giving your child vitamins, you’re not alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 34% of children and adolescents take daily dietary supplements. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend a daily multivitamin for children eating a well-balanced diet.

What if my child is a picky eater?

Many common “kid-friendly” foods are fortified with important vitamins that your child needs. Vitamins like A, D, B and C have been added to foods such as breakfast cereal, milk, bread, yogurt, fruit juice and nut milks.

It’s also important to know that the body stores many vitamins to be used later. So, if your child eats a balanced meal over the span of one week, they should be getting all the vitamins they need.

Are there any special circumstances when a vitamin for children is recommended?

In some cases, however, your child's diet may need a boost from a supplement.

Vitamin D is used in the body to build and maintain healthy bones. The AAP recommends breastfeeding infants, which has many benefits. However, breast milk does not contain any vitamin D. Breastfed babies need 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D every day until they are 1 year old. Babies who take more than 32 ounces of formula with added vitamin D daily do not need extra supplementation. Children ages 1-9 need two to three servings of vitamin D-fortified milk, yogurt or cheese to get the recommended 400 IU of vitamin D each day.

Iron helps your body make healthy red blood cells. The AAP recommends all infants be screened at 12 months old for iron deficiency anemia. Typically, a full-term infant has enough iron stores at birth to last the first six months of life. Around this time, infants can start to eat iron rich foods like red meat, eggs and iron-fortified cereals. Babies born prematurely or at low birth weight lack this extra iron storage. Additionally, breast milk does not contain very much iron. Providers may recommend iron supplementation in these situations.

Vitamin B12 is important for the developing brain and found naturally in animal products. Providers may recommend a vitamin B12 supplement for children eating a vegan diet.

Tips for caregivers

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate vitamins and other dietary supplements to ensure they are safe or effective to take. This means the manufacturers are tasked with following safety guidelines and labeling their product accurately.

Do not give your child more than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) dose for their age. This can lead to toxic symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and rashes. Yes, your child can overdose on vitamins! Large doses of vitamins can cause serious medical problems and even be fatal.

Do not treat supplements like candy and keep them out of reach of children in the home.

A balanced diet is the best way for your child to get all the nutrients and vitamins they need. In special situations, a vitamin supplement may be helpful. If you are considering giving your child a dietary supplement, talk to their pediatric health care provider at your next well-child exam.

Have more questions about your child taking vitamins? Talk to your pediatrician or find one near you.

About the Author

Shelley Watts, DO, is a pediatric resident at Baylor Scott & White McLane Children's in Temple.

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