All About Vitamin D for Kids

Learn about vitamin D for kids, including how much children need, and making sure they’re getting enough from a variety of food sources.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for children. It’s critical for bone development and growth, as well as optimal health. It’s a nutrient that’s supplemented right after birth if a mom is breastfeeding. And, it’s included in infant formulas.

Natural food sources of vitamin D are few, but food fortification, like in milk, helps children meet their overall requirements.

[Listen to my chat with Dr. Taylor Wallace about the position paper from the National Osteoporosis Foundation in this episode of The Nourished Child.]

A carton of milk includes vitamin D for kids

What Does Vitamin D Do?

Vitamin D’s main job is to maintain normal levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood, which are important for bone growth and overall health.

Vitamin D may also play a role in providing protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.

Vitamin D Requirements for Children

Adequate levels of intake for infants are 400 IU/day with a maximum of 1,000 IU/day for infants 0-6 months of age and 1,500 IU/day in infants 6-12 months of age.

Breastfed babies will need a Vitamin D supplement, and those who are formula-fed will receive vitamin D included within the formula.

Children and teens 1-20 years of age should get 600 IU of Vitamin D per day.

Vitamin D Deficiency in Children 

Rickets, a condition that causes bone malformation, observed in bowing of the legs or knock-knees, occurs with vitamin D deficiency in children.

Over the past decade, rickets is making a comeback, partly due to lack of supplementation in early childhood, poor intake, and the use of sunscreen, which blocks the activation of vitamin D in the skin.

A host of other problems have been linked to Vitamin D deficiency in children, as well.  If you are exclusively breastfeeding your infant, supplementation of Vitamin D is needed due to low levels in breast milk.

If you’re unsure of your child’s nutrient needs and how complementary foods (solid foods for babies who are 6 months or older) help to close the gap on potential deficiencies, my starting solids book will help sort this all out.

The Smart Mom's Guide to Starting Solids
Starting Solids book

Can Kids Get Too Much Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is fat-soluble, and therefore it is stored in the body within fat tissue.  Toxicity is possible, and can lead to serious problems such as hypercalcemia (dangerously high levels of calcium), lung, heart, and kidney problems.

Intake of vitamin D should not exceed 1,000-4,000 IU per day, depending on the age of the child.

How Do I Know if My Child has a Deficiency? 

A blood test can identify vitamin D deficiency. Infants and children should be screened for deficiency if they have signs of:

  • poor growth
  • gross motor delays
  • are exclusively breastfed
  • demonstrate unusual irritability
  • have dark pigmented skin (children of color)
  • use known Vitamin D lowering medications
  • have malabsorption syndromes or inflammatory bowel diseases
  • incur frequent fractures
  • have low bone mineral density
  • are overweight or obese
  • consume low amounts of vitamin D-rich foods
  • have limited sun exposure and/or live in high altitude regions

How Sunshine Helps Kids Get Enough Vitamin D

Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine” vitamin. About 90% of this nutrient is made by the body when skin is exposed to UVB rays from sunlight.

Experts believe that as little as 10-15 minutes in the sun three times a week is sufficient to meet needs. 

The other 10% comes from food, which is made easier when choosing Vitamin D fortified products.

Foods that Provide the Sunshine Vitamin

There aren’t tons of vitamin D foods.

Oily fish, such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon, and cod liver oil are naturally rich sources of Vitamin D for kids.

Vitamin D-enhanced and fortified foods include eggs, milk, orange juice, and cereal.

You’ll want to be sure that the packaging indicates that vitamin D has been added.

Vitamin D-fortified milk is the main source of vitamin D for Americans.

Shoot for 3 servings of dairy or non-dairy, fortified substitute and a variety of food sources.

The following articles can help you sort through milk and dairy foods:

All nutrients are important for growing children. Vitamin D is especially crucial for any growing child. Whether it’s the sunshine of your active life, or the food from your family table, the benefits are the same.

Getting a mix of both is the best way to ensure your kids are covered.  Yet another reason to eat a good breakfast and spend more time playing outdoors!

Nutrients for Kids: Advanced Guide book

Need More Help with Making Sure Your Kids Get the Nutrients They Need?

Check out my booklets, workshops and classes. They’re designed to make you a better food parent.

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  1. Don’t trust the I.O.M. They are corrupt.
    The vitamin D levels they now recommend will keep you sick. Your body can produce up to 50,000 IUs of vitamin D in one day from strong sun exposure.

  2. Many share your concern with the current IOM recommendations and feel that they are too low. I will look forward to emerging evidence in this area, particularly for children.

  3. Here’s a good one concerning children.
    My wife had 4 miscarriages. We raised her levels to 60 ng (possibly higher) and no more miscarriages. Now we have 3 healthy kids. Including twins that are now 5 weeks old. They were born 6 6 lbs and 7 lbs, 20 inches each. I’m a firm believer that significantly higher vitamin D levels are healthier for a developing baby!

  4. We give Baby C Vitamin D in Tri-Visol because I’m nursing and it’s so weird/funny that breastmilk does not have vitamin D because you would think it would be similar to cows milk, but not so. Thanks for this post!

  5. Breast milk does contain Vitamin D (about 25 IU per liter, according to the CDC), which is inadequate — hence, supplementation of 400 IU/day for breast-fed infants is advised. Cow’s milk is fortified with Vitamin D (there is about 100 IU per 8 ounces), thus making it a good source.

  6. Dear Jill,
    please don’t think that I’m disagreeing with you, I just feel that you do not take the intake of vitamin D far enough. As you probably know, the body can produce up to 20,000 IUs of vitamin D when exposed to 15 minutes of sunlight. Because your body can produce so much, so quickly I believe it’s much more important than the “experts” tell us. Also increased amounts of D appeared to have a direct positive effect with our successful pregnancies.
    Other interesting points that I have since read are:
    1. 75 years ago the courts denied several BIG PHARMA type companies from patenting vitamin D
    2. In 1950 erroneous reports of vitamin D emerged about overdosing. People still believe today that overdosing is easy and it simply is not.
    3. Nearly every cell in the human body has a vitamin D receptor. I believe they are there for a reason.
    4. With all the new links of vitamin D on health, it’s impossible for me to think that it does not also have a positive influence on a developing baby! (My favorite.)

  7. Some might not know about Vitamin D but you should aim to get at least at the very least ffteien minutes of sun on a daily basis. This is because your body will organically create the Vitamin D the minute your skin is exposed to the sun. If you typically wear sunscreen all the time, for this time frame, skip wearing it. This is because the chemicals in the sunscreen will stop your body’s natural absorption of sunlight. Another good part of sunshine is that it is good at fighting fatigue and depression. If you have medium to dark skin, then you should try to stay out for 10 minutes more in the sun to receive all the benefits.