Vitamins and minerals for breastfeeding mothers: vitamin D

Breastfeeding women may require supplements to their diet to ensure that they receive adequate amounts of some vitamins and minerals.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency impairs the absorption of dietary calcium and phosphorus, which can give rise to bone deformities such as rickets in children, and bone pain and tenderness as a result of osteomalacia in adults. All breastfeeding women, especially teenage and younger women and women with darker skin, are particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D and sunlight

Vitamin D is created from modest exposure to direct UVB sunlight. Regular, short periods of UVB exposure without sunscreen during the summer months are enough for most people. However, breastfeeding women may not be able to get enough vitamin D in this way. In addition, as Scotland is north of 52 degrees latitude it does not receive enough UVB exposure during the winter months.

Sun exposure

It is important for everyone to be aware that longer exposure to the sun, especially for prolonged unprotected periods, increases the risk of skin cancer. Staying covered up and use of sunscreen (with a UVB factor of 15 or above) is important for most people spending time outside. Furthermore, it is important to cover up or protect the skin before it starts to turn red or burn.

Vitamin D and diet

There are some dietary sources of vitamin D, such as oily fish (for example salmon, mackerel and sardines), egg yolks and meat. Manufacturers are required to add vitamin D to margarine with more than 80% fat content* and to infant formula. Some manufacturers add it voluntarily to breakfast cereals, soya products, some dairy products, powdered milks and low-fat spreads; however, it is often in minimal amounts  The average daily intake for most women is just 2-4 micrograms (μg), and therefore it is difficult for most women to obtain the required 10μg/day of  vitamin D from diet alone. It is recommended that all breastfeeding women take a vitamin D supplement of 10μg/day.

 * UK legislation requires margarine to fortified with vitamin D. While fat spreads with a fat content of less than 80% are not subject to this requirement, some manufacturers voluntarily fortify these products with vitamin D.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition - Update on vitamin D (2007).

For further information see:

Vitamin D Professional leaflet

Vitamin D and You

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