Vitamin D & Your Baby

Vitamin D & Your Baby

Vitamin D helps our bodies use calcium to build and maintain strong bones and teeth.


Key points about vitamin D

  • vitamin D helps our bodies use calcium to build and maintain strong bones and teeth
  • low levels of vitamin D in babies and children can cause rickets
  • rickets can result in weak bones, delayed walking, bowed legs, and swollen wrists or ankles
  • if untreated, rickets can lead to failure to grow, deformed or broken bones, pneumonia and seizures
  • every year a number of babies and children in New Zealand are diagnosed with rickets

Sources of vitamin D

Vitamin D is known as the 'sunshine vitamin' because our bodies can make it from the sun. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun are used to make vitamin D.

Babies can't safely get the vitamin D they need from the sun. Their skin is very sensitive and should not be exposed to direct sunlight.

Breastmilk is the ideal and recommended food for your baby but it is not a good source of vitamin D.

Advice about babies and the sun

Scroll down the the Cancer Society website's page about being sunsmart. They have advice about babies and sunscreen. 

Which babies are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency?

Your baby is at high risk of vitamin D deficiency if they are breastfed and:

  • they have naturally dark skin
  • you have been told that you are low in vitamin D
  • one or more of your children has had rickets or seizures resulting from low blood calcium levels

Babies who are born preterm with low body weight may be vitamin D deficient.

Babies who are breastfed over winter months in New Zealand may also be vitamin D deficient by late winter/spring.

Supplements for babies at risk of vitamin D deficiency

If your baby is at high risk of vitamin D deficiency, talk to a health professional such as your doctor, midwife or dietitian. Your doctor can prescribe a vitamin D supplement that comes in drops.

Drops can either be:

  • put on your nipple before your baby latches on
  • given directly into your baby's mouth using a dropper

Vitamin D information in several languages

Go to the bottom of the Ministry of Health's page on vitamin D and your baby. There you can find information in English, Māori, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Cook Islands Māori, Hindi, Korean, Samoan, Tagalog, Tongan.

This page last reviewed 12 October 2021.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it