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Supplements for Breastfed Babies

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN

Published: June 30, 2021

Reviewed: July 12, 2021

supplements for breast-fed babies

Until you start introducing solid foods around six months of age, breast milk is a complete source of nutrition for most infants. However, some babies may need supplemental nutrients. Ask your doctor for advice.

Iron for Healthy Tissues and Organs

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 development and growth.

Premature infants who breastfeed 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.

Around four months of age, full-term babies who are exclusively breastfed may also require an iron supplement due to their iron stores getting low. However, talk with your health care provider before adding an iron supplement. Between four to six months of life, infants start to show signs of being developmentally ready for solid foods. Iron-rich sources are recommended as a baby’s first food, so this will also influence whether a supplement will be needed. If you are feeding your baby formula, also ask your doctor about iron needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that if formula is used, it be iron-fortified for the first year of life.

Fluoride for Strong Teeth

Before you can even see them, your baby's teeth are already forming under the gumline. Fluoride, a mineral found naturally in water, helps develop strong teeth. And, it also helps to prevent cavities later. Although many sources of tap water are fluoridated, breast milk contains little fluoride. The amount of fluoride in formula will depend on the water that is used to prepare it. For the first six months, healthy babies will not need additional water if they are consuming enough breastmilk or formula. When babies are 6 months or older, the AAP recommends a fluoride supplement be discussed with your child's pediatrician or dentist to determine if it is needed.

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. Because infants can’t rely on the sun for their vitamin D, they may 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 are weak bones, may cause the legs of young children to bow.

The AAP recommends all breastfed babies receive at least 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D daily, starting within the first few days of life. Talk with your pediatrician about supplemental vitamin D drops for your baby.

All infant formula in the United States is fortified with vitamin D to help babies meet their needs. If your baby is only partially formula fed or if you're worried about your baby's appetite, ask your doctor if a vitamin D supplement is needed.

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