Do babies need supplements?
We all need plenty of nutrients to support our well-being. Good nutrition is especially important for babies and young children as growth and development is a nutrient intensive process!
Nutrients from food: always our first choice
Vitamins and minerals are found in a wide variety of foods from fruit and vegetables to fish and poultry. Nutrients from fresh food are superior to synthetic vitamins and minerals because they come in a “more complete” package  including fibre in fruit and vegetables that can support your baby’s gut and therefore increase nutrient absorption.
Fresh fruit and vegetables can also improve nutrient status as they not only contain vitamins and minerals but also health-protective substances such as antioxidants that help reduce oxidation generated by free-radicals and can protect your baby against lung and intestinal conditions .
And let’s not forget that nutrients found in foods are much more gentle in the stomach, come in the right quantities  and sometimes even paired with nutrients that enhance absorption, for example spinach contain vegetarian iron that is better absorbed when there is also vitamin C  which happens to be also available in good amounts in green leafy veggies!
If you are breastfeeding, your breast milk will contain an impressive array of nutrients for your little one including immune boosting compounds and essential fats to support brain and eye development. If you are bottle-feeding most formula brands have been developed to include plenty of essential nutrients including probiotics and good fats.
When are supplements a good idea?
Having said all this, supplements do play an important role in support health and well-being when our diets are lacking essential nutrients or aren’t as balanced as they should be. This is especially important for small children who need minerals like iron for growth and development and zinc  to help their immune system develop but their appetites and food choices might prevent them from getting as much as they need.
As a registered nutritionist, I encourage parents to add nutrients to their children’s diets with fresh foods as this also allows little ones to explore new flavours and textures and increases food acceptance. But I am a mum too and understand how difficult it can be to get your kids to eat a healthy balanced diet. And that is one of the reasons why PurpleCarrot Nutrition develops recipes for Béaba, to help parents feed their children nutritious food that tastes great!
When can a supplement help?
There are certain situations when a good nutrition supplement can help support your baby’s growth and development but always under the supervision of a medical professional or a registered nutritionist. Some supplements can be toxic at high doses especially for children so if you think your little one needs nutrients other than those they get from their everyday diet, get some professional advice first.
Some cases in which you may want to discuss your baby’s need for a supplement with your doctor or registered nutritionist include:
1- For children weaned onto a vegan diet, getting sufficient Vitamin B12  and iron can be difficult so a supplement can help ensure your little one is not at risk of becoming anaemic or at higher risk of respiratory tract infections 7
2- Children on a vegetarian diet who eat dairy and eggs are not at a risk of not having enough vitamin B12 but can their diets can be low in iron  which is essential for growth and the consequences of deficiency are not always reversible.
3- If your baby is not feeding well and especially if he or she is moving down the weight and height centiles a supplement multi vitamin and mineral can provide essential nutrients to support development.
4- If your baby is refusing new foods and is on a restricted diet, a supplement that provides some of the nutrients he or she might be missing can give you peace of mind while you help him accept new foods and broaden his diet.
5- If your baby is allergic or intolerant to important food groups like for example dairy as it is an important source of calcium  that supports not only healthy bones and teeth but also heart and muscle function. But let’s not forget that non-diary sources of calcium are abundant including kale, almonds, sesame seeds, broccoli. For children who are allergic to fish, a vegan omega-3 supplement could be very helpful and also adding flax and chia seeds to his or her porridge, cereal or bakes.
6- If your baby has been given antibiotics to control an infection, his or her gut flora might have been harmed in the process of eliminating the harmful bacteria. A good probiotic can help rebuild the good bacteria in his or her gut. Also, supplements with prebiotic fibre that feeds the good bacteria can be very helpful in these cases.
Natural prebiotics can be found in bananas, onions, leeks and asparagus while probiotics in food come from fermented foods like miso, yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut.
7- If your baby suffers from eczema, an inflammatory condition, a supplement containing omega 3 or vitamin C  can help reduce the inflammation and support the immune system. Note that all fruit and vegetables especially peppers, kiwi fruit and citrus are high in vitamin C and oily fish, flax and chia seeds provide good amounts of omega 3 fatty acids.
8- If your baby suffers from recurrent diarrhoea, an infant probiotic can help rebuild the gut bacteria that are washed out after each bowel movement.
And last but not least, we all need a little vitamin D as we cannot get enough from our diet and the main source is exposure to sunlight, which sadly in the UK is sporadic at best. For babies, it is even more difficult to reach an adequate dose of vitamin D as their sensitive skin needs to be protected from then sun more than ours. Unless you baby is deficient which could be the case if you didn’t take a supplement during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, a dose of 8.5mcg-10mcg up till the age of 12 months should be enough. If you suspect your baby might be deficient, please contact your GP or registered nutritionist.
1 Mayo Clinic (2017) Supplements: Nutrition in a pill? Last accessed online on 23/04/18 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/supplements/art-20044894
2 Tsopmo A (2018) Phytochemicals in Human Milk and Their Potential Antioxidative Protection Antioxidants Basel 7 2
3 Harvard Health Letter (2015) Should you get your nutrients from food or from supplements? Last accessed online on 23/04/18 at https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-get-your-nutrients-from-food-or-from-supplements
4 Phillips F (2005) Vegetarian Nutrition Nutrition Bulletin 30 132-167
5 Lozoff B (2007) Iron deficiency and child development Food and Nutrition Bulletin 28 (4) 560-71
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7 Elmadfa I Singer I (2009) Vitamin B-12 and homocysteine status among vegetarians: a global perspective The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89 5 1693S-1698S
8 Schultz IJ Chen C Paw BH Hamza I (2010) Iron and porphyrin trafficking in heme biogenesis Journal of Biological Chemistry 285 35 26753-9
9 Berchtold MW Brinkmeier H Müntener M (2000) Calcium ion in skeletal muscle: its crucial role for muscle function plasticity and disease Physiological Reviews 80 3 1215-65
10 Park HH Lee S Son HY Park SB Kim MS Choi EJ Singh TS Ha JH Lee MG Kim JE Hyun MC Kwon TK Kim YH Kim SH (2008) Flavonoids inhibit histamine release and expression of proinflammatory cytokines in mast cells Archives of Pharmaceutical Research 31 10 1303-11
Written by Purple Carrot Nutrition: https://purplecarrotnutrition.co.uk/