There are so many things we can do to improve the health of our children, even while we’re pregnant and when they’re newborns. I’ve shared some guidelines on nutritional supplementation during pregnancy in another post, but now I want to focus on nutritional supplements to consider for babies.
Breast Milk is Foundational
Breast milk is nutritious and beneficial for babies regardless of mom’s diet; however, breast milk can be more nutritious when mom’s diet and nutrient status are optimized. For example, the types of fatty acids in our diet affect the types of fatty acids found in our breast milk.1 It’s also best for breastfeeding moms to continue to take a prenatal multivitamin/mineral. Breast milk is foundational for babies’ nutrition, immune system maturation, and gut microbiome inoculation, and the components in breast milk responsible for these effects cannot be supplemented. If you can, breastfeeding your baby is one of the most beneficial things you can do for their health.
Vitamin K is typically given to newborns as an injection when they are born in a hospital. Vitamin K is administered to prevent spontaneous bleeding in the newborn, since some of our blood clotting factors require vitamin K to become activated. Vitamin K is produced by our gut bacteria, which newborn babies lack. Our daughter was born at home and we were able to choose if and how we wanted vitamin K administered. We chose for her to get a vitamin K injection from a single-dose vial (pure, without preservatives), since the injection is more effective than oral vitamin K, and has little to no risk when given in the preservative-free form. I found this Evidence Based Birth article incredibly helpful in reviewing and summarizing the research on vitamin K options for newborns.
Breastfed babies typically need a vitamin D3 supplement, since breastfed babies are only provided with a sufficient amount of vitamin D3 from breast milk if mom’s vitamin D3 intake is at least 6,400 IU per day.2 Ensuring an optimal vitamin D status during pregnancy can be helpful in increasing the content of vitamin D in breast milk. I follow the current guidelines and give 400 IU daily to my daughter, which I started the day she was born.3 Most baby formulas are fortified with vitamin D. Ensuring an optimal vitamin D status in infants will help them grow healthy and strong bones, promote a healthy immune system, decrease the risk of allergies and asthma, support their cognitive development, and foster healthy mineral levels.4
Omega-3 fatty acids are another important supplement for babies, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA supports the development of the brain and eyes, since it’s a major structural component. It has been suggested that DHA supplementation during pregnancy and within the first two years of life increases a child’s IQ. Since I exclusively breastfeed my three month old daughter, I supplement with DHA daily (which I also did during pregnancy), and I give her DHA directly as well. Infants who consume breast milk that have higher levels of DHA have higher IQs than infants who don’t consume breast milk, or consume breast milk that have lower levels of DHA.5
Lastly, probiotics are extremely beneficial for all of us, but especially infants. Infants acquire their first doses of beneficial probiotic bacteria when they are born through the birth canal, and when they consume colostrum and breast milk. I supplemented with probiotics throughout my pregnancy, so that my birth canal would be inoculated with healthy bacteria species for my daughter to acquire as she passes through. Gut colonization in infants is so important for the development their immune defenses, digestive capacity, metabolic health, and more. Gut microbiome development in infants is disrupted by C-section births, antibiotic administration, and formula feeding.6 This puts babies at an increased risk for metabolic conditions (diabetes, obesity, etc.) and immune diseases (asthma, eczema, autoimmune disease, etc.).6 Probiotic supplementation in infants can be extremely helpful in preventing these conditions, and establishing a robust, strong immune system.
On a final note, an iron supplement may be considered around six months of age. Iron is important for babies’ brain development, and in preventing anemia. Be sure your baby is consuming foods that are naturally rich in iron at that point (meat, poultry, egg yolks, vegetables). My article about starting solids with babies discusses this further!
Are you pregnant, looking to become pregnant, or have a newborn? I’d love to give you more specific guidance on nutrition, diet, & supplements for you and your little one. Let’s get acquainted! Schedule a complimentary 10-minute phone consult with me here.
- Ratnayake, W.M.N., Swist, E., Zoka, R., et. al. Mandatory trans fat labeling regulations and nationwide product reformulations to reduce trans fatty acid content in foods contributed to lowered concentrations of trans fat in Canadian women’s breast milk samples collected in 2009-2011.
- Hollis, B.W., Wagner, C.L., Howard, C.R., et. al. Maternal vs infant vitamin D supplementation during lactation: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics. (2015);136(4):625-634.
- Ahrens, K.A., Rossen, L.M., and Simon, A.E. Adherence to vitamin D recommendations among US infants aged 0 to 11 months, NHANES, 2009 to 2012. Clinical Pediatrics. (2016);55(6):555-556.
- Helve, O., Viljakainen, H., Holmlund-Suila, E., et. al. Towards evidence-based vitamin D supplementation in infants: vitamin D intervention in infants (VIDI) – study design and methods of a randomised controlled double-blinded intervention study. BMC Pediatrics. (2017);17(91).
- Bernard, J.Y., Armand, M., Peyre, H., et. al. Breastfeeding, polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in colostrum and child intelligence quotient at age 5-6 years. The Journal of Pediatrics. (2017);183:43-50.
- Mueller, N.T., Bakacs, E., Combellick, J., et. al. The infant microbiome development: mom matters. Trends in Molecular Medicine. (2015);21(2):109-117.