Your baby or toddler needs the right type of vitamins to ensure he grows and develops properly, but which ones can come from food and which from supplements?
Your little one is growing and changing so fast, it’s important that he gets all the nutrients he needs to develop.
‘Vitamins and minerals are essential for normal growth and development particularly in the early years as your child’s body is growing quickly and they’re used for chemical reactions within the body,’ says Julie Clark, registered Family Nutritionist and author of Baby-Led Weaning Step by Step. ‘Their key roles are to help the body use up the calories in food, process fat, protein and carbohydrates, and help in the repair and building of cells and tissues.’
With all this in mind, a good variety of different foods, and particularly colours of foods, in your child’s diet will ensure many of the nutrients can be crossed off the list.
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When your baby is born, he has his own stock of iron and zinc, which have been passed onto him while in the womb. However, by the time he’s six months, those stocks are running out. ‘This is why you need to start weaning onto food at this age,’ says dietician Jo Travers from thelondonnutritionist.co.uk. ‘Milk does not provide enough nutrients for your baby, which is why you need food.’
From the age of six months, your baby needs 7.8mg of iron. ‘While formula is fortified with nutrients, including iron, you should also ensure that you wean him using iron-rich foods such as meat, dark poultry meat, beans, pulses and dark green leafy vegetables,’ says Jo. It’s worth remembering that calcium can prevent the absorption of iron so giving him milk at the same time as a plate of baked beans could potentially limit the iron content of the beans. To counter this, ensure you serve up foods containing vitamin C alongside them as they can aid the absorption of iron. See below for vitamin C-rich foods.
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This nutrient is needed to help absorb iron from food. ‘While calcium is a very important nutrient for ensuring your baby builds up strong bones and teeth, it can also inhibit the absorption of non-haem iron,’ says Jo. ‘This comes from vegetable sources such as spinach or kale. However, you can boost absorption by eating foods containing vitamin C, such as oranges, peppers, kiwis and broccoli.’ Vitamin C also helps to strengthen your baby’s immune system, which can be quite weak in the early years of his life. ‘Children aged between 12 months and 2 years often go through a picky phase and tend to eat less vegetables and fruits,’ says Julie.
This is probably one of the most crucial vitamins needed. ‘It’s made when sunlight hits the skin, but because the levels of sunlight in the UK can be quite low, it’s vital that children aged between six months and five years take a supplement drop containing vitamin D,’ says Julie. ‘However, babies who are fed infant formula will not need vitamin drops until they are receiving less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, as these products are fortified with vitamin D.’ There are a few dietary sources of vitamin D – fortified breakfast cereals and margarine – but NHS advice states that you should boost your baby’s sources with a supplement.
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Essential for eye health, normal growth and development and the immune system, vitamin A (the beta carotene variety) can be found in orange and yellow coloured foods such as carrot, butternut squash and mango. ‘Animal sources of vitamin A (known as retinol) include meat and dairy,’ says Jo.
Omega-3 and 6
Dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton, says: “Omega-3s are important at any age. Several studies have found that children exposed to optimal intakes of omega-3s in the womb or infanthood tend to have better cognitive function, while a recent randomised control trial showed the specific combination of omega-3 and 6 in Equazen is as effective as prescription medicines for controlling the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Parenting expert Lorraine Thomas, founder of the Parent Coaching Academy, says: “Science has found that a blend of omega-3 and 6 in the diet help with behavior, memory and, as a result, learning. They also help with sleep patterns according to researchers from Oxford University. They found children who had a diet rich in omega-3 and omega-6 slept for longer and woke up less in the night compared to those children who did not have a diet rich in omega-3 and omega-6.”
Equazen Baby supplement is a source of Omega-3 and 6, and is suitable for ages 6 months - 3 years.
How do I get vitamins for my baby?
Depending on where you live, you may be able to get free vitamin drops for your child from Sure Start Centres. Some families on low incomes are eligible for Healthy Start vitamins. Otherwise, you can often get them over the counter – talk to your pharmacist for advice.