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Supplements for Breast-Fed Babies

Reviewed by Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD
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Until you introduce solid foods – preferably at about six months – breast milk is a complete source of nutrition for most infants. However, some babies may need supplements of three nutrients. And formula fed babies may need fortified products. Ask your doctor for advice.

Iron for Healthy Tissues and Organs

Premature infants who breast-feed may need iron supplements. Born early, these babies had less time to build adequate iron reserves before birth. Thus, your preemie may need an iron supplement.

Why is iron important? Iron helps make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body to all your baby’s cells. Plus, iron is needed for your baby's brain development and growth.

Signs of iron deficiency in babies include slow weight gain, pale skin and poor appetite. Babies not consuming enough iron also may be cranky and fussy. Infants with low iron may be less active. These symptoms can indicate other conditions. Thus, talk with your health care provider before adding an iron supplement. 

If you are feeding your baby formula, also ask your doctor about iron needs. Find out if your child needs an iron-fortified product.

Fluoride for Strong Teeth 

Before you can see them, your baby's teeth start to form under the gum. Fluoride, a mineral often found in tap water, helps develop strong teeth. And, it also helps to prevent cavities later. For strong teeth, both breast-fed and formula fed babies who are older than 6 months may need fluoride supplements.

Breast milk contains little fluoride – even if the mom's drinking water is fluoridated. Thus, your doctor may suggest a fluoride supplement for your breast-fed baby. 

Breast-fed infants who take supplemental ready-to-use formula also may need a fluoride supplement. Many of these formulas are prepared with water low in fluoride. For example, breast-fed babies drinking formula made with:

  • Well water, distilled water, unfluoridated bottled water or city unfluoridated water, need a fluoride supplement starting at about six months.
  • Fluoridated water of at least 0.3 ppm (parts per million) of fluoride may get enough fluoride.

Vitamin D for Growing Bones

Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. Because, when exposed to sunlight, our skin can make vitamin D. However, you must protect your baby's tender skin from sunlight with sunscreen or clothing. Thus, infants might also need a vitamin D supplement.

This vitamin helps your baby use calcium from breast milk (and infant formula) to help bones grow and develop. Babies who do not get enough vitamin D may develop rickets. Rickets, which is weak bones, may cause the legs of young children to bow.

Breast-fed babies get vitamin D from their mom’s milk. However, if you are low in vitamin D, your baby may not be getting enough of this vitamin. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D level. If they are low, talk with your doctor about a vitamin D supplement for you and for your baby.

If your baby is formula fed, ask your doctor about the need for a vitamin D-fortified formula. Or, if your baby needs to take a vitamin D supplement.