Firstly, let’s start off with what a vitamin is. Vitamins are chemicals that are needed in trace amounts in the body to help with certain chemical processes that take place in the body. The body has a limited ability to make these chemicals on its own so they have to come from diet, and failure to get the right amounts of these vitamins can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Now there are so many vitamin deficiency diseases, but there’s no point in covering that right now. That’s what your board certified physicians are for, and that’s some of the very “stuff” we spent years studying. However, it’s important to know that in the US vitamin deficiencies are extremely rare because most children get what they need.
While vitamins aren’t always harmful, I’m not entirely sure they’re always helpful or needed. Ideally, your child is getting enough nutrition in the food he or she eats. They don’t necessarily need to eat a salad once a day, but even picky eaters can get many nutrients from the food they eat. There are exceptions certainly which we will talk about it more, but if you’re interested in beginning your child on a vitamin – make sure you ask your pediatrician if it’s necessary and which one to begin.
It’s important that the vitamin you choose is formulated for your child’s age group. Again, vitamins when taken properly usually don’t do any harm. However, they shouldn’t take the place of a healthy diet. I like to encourage families to incorporate all colors of the rainbow into their diet.
What does that mean?
Think about it: it’s not just leafy greens, but red tomatoes, orange bell peppers, blueberries, green kiwis, purple eggplants-You get the jist! Try to bring 1-2 different vegetables into the home each week and prepare them. Don’t be surprised or discouraged if they refuse to eat the vegetable. That’s why variety and repetition is key.
Now being a pediatrician, understanding the nutritional needs for children is my bread and butter. Not every child is created equal. Let’s talk about premature infants as they likely will need supplementation depending on how premature they were or what the NICU course was for the infant. I don’t routinely recommend iron supplementation at birth for full-term babies, but for babies that have very low birth weight or are preterm, I do. However, this needs to be run by your pediatrician first. Vitamin D requirements are higher in premature infants as well. Even phosphorus and calcium intake can be lower in some premature infants requiring supplementation. Again, these are items which are managed either in the hospital setting in the NICU or by your pediatrician.
One thing I have to emphasize though – if you do give your kids vitamins, never call them candy. Try to keep vitamins out of reach of children, as they may find them sweet and try more than they the appropriate serving in one sitting which puts your child at risk of toxicity.