Does my baby really need a supplement?
It all depends on his age. Up until the age of six months, your baby shouldn't need to take extra vitamins. Breastmilk and formula are usually enough to provide all the right nutrients, unless your baby was born prematurely or has health issues.
However, once little ones reach six months and start to wean, their needs change. They can no longer get all their essential nutrients from the bottle or breast alone. At this stage the stores of vitamins such as iron, which built up in your infant's body before he was born, need to be replenished.
As weaning can be a slow process, and each baby is different, it may be some time before a balanced diet provides all the right vitamins and minerals your baby needs to grow and develop.
When should I give vitamin drops?
The government’s Food Standards Agency recommends all children aged from six months to two years who are breastfeeding or having less than 500ml of formula milk a day should be given supplements providing vitamins A, C and D.
For babies under 12 months it's recommended you choose a supplement in the form of liquid drops. Using the syringe or dropper provided, you can administer the drops orally, directly onto the back of the tongue. However, you may find it easier to add the drops to a bottle or beaker of milk, or any other drink; read the instructions for directions.
Where do I get them?
Buy vitamin drops from a pharmacy, not a supermarket, so you can ask the pharmacist for advice if need be. If you receive certain benefits, vitamin drops may also be available on prescription. Even if you don’t qualify to get vitamin drops free of charge, you may be able to buy them at a reduced rate from your local NHS Child Health Clinic: ask your health visitor.
Anything else I should check?
If you’re buying a vitamin supplement, read the label carefully first. Check that it’s suitable for your baby’s age and stage of development, as some nutrients can be toxic to young babies in the wrong dose - always make sure you follow the dosage instructions properly.
Read the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) on the packet – these are usually listed as percentages of your child’s daily requirements, so you can work out if they'll meet his needs. Also scan the label for other ingredients, as some brands may contain artificial sweeteners, preservatives and additives.
Keep vitamin supplements somewhere safe, well out of reach of your baby and any older children, as an overdose of iron, in particular, can be very dangerous.
My baby still drinks lots of formula – does he really need extra vitamins?
If your baby is still drinking over 500ml of formula a day, he should be getting all the nutrients he needs. However, there may be other situations where it's handy to supplement your baby's vitamin intake. These include:
Slow weaners and picky eaters
It’s normal for your baby’s appetite for solids to increase slowly, but if he’s taking his time adjusting to weaning or is a very fussy eater, you might want to give him a supplement to boost his nutrient intake. If you do decide to use a supplement, make sure it’s not instead of a balanced diet: keep trying to introduce new foods and a wide range of nutrients at this stage, as fussy eating is likely to become more ingrained the older your baby gets.
After an illness
If your baby has been ill and looks pale, tired and generally run-down, bolstering him with a course of vitamin supplements might be a good idea, especially if his appetite has suffered as a result of being sick. Always talk to your doctor first, as he can recommend the best kind for his age and symptoms.
Babies brought up on a vegetarian or vegan diet may lack the essential nutrients they need to grow and develop properly. Ask your doctor or health visitor whether your baby would benefit from a supplement containing iron, zinc or vitamin B12 supplement.
If your child suffers from allergies that require following a restricted diet, he may also be missing out on key nutrients – for example, a baby who’s allergic to milk may need additional calcium. Again, your GP or health visitor is the best person to advise you.
Where can I find out more?
If you need more information about whether a vitamin supplement is necessary for your baby, or if you have any other concerns about your child’s diet or health, speak to your GP or health visitor.