The Mama guilt is great with regards to children’s vitamins and supplements. The selection available in pharmacies can be overwhelming, with many options over priced with little credentials. To give or not to give?! The answer to that varies on who you’re talking to, with guideline recommendations varying depending on where you’re looking. Confused much?!
My advice is to ensure you’re confidently educated on your child’s nutritional requirements, and then follow some ‘Mother knows best’ gut instinct. First and foremost, food is undoubtedly the best source of nutrition for everyone (paediatric or geriatric!). Nutrients are absorbed far more efficiently from food than vitamins, no matter what the blurb says. The bioavailability of many nutrients is questionable in various supplement form designs, and vitamins shouldn’t be used instead of a healthy diet. However, vitamins do play a vital role in various situations – Is your little one failing to thrive? A ‘picky’ eater? Allergic or intolerant to certain food types? Are you raising your child(ren) vegan (sigh)?
In Ireland, Vitamin D (at a dose of 400iu) is recommended for all babies whether breast or bottle-fed from birth until they are twelve months. After this, there’s no guideline in place for additional supplementation. Recommendations vary from country to country, where for example, in the US babies are advised to take an iron supplement from four months of age, along with Vitamin D. (You’ll notice large variants in the nutritional content of milk formula Stateside as well)… Babies and toddlers need a LOT of iron, which is why you’ll notice baby cereals/formulas/snacks are often fortified with the stuff.
But back to the food – As a general rule of thumb, I aim to feed my little one three different foods in three meals a day (….plus snacks, the endless bloody snacks!). Calcium is of major importance for little ones, as are omegas, iron, protein and zinc. A varied diet is so important to ensure all the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals are being met. For example, iron is of little use in the diet without vitamin C (as this improves iron absorption). Ensure that fickle eaters aren’t filling their bellies up with unnecessary liquids (juices, extra milk etc). Food diaries can often help parents notice gaps in their children’s nutrition, as well as how much/how little their child is actually ingesting.
As for supplements, if your child is growing steadily, eats a well balanced diet and is generally ‘thriving’ as they say, then they’re more than likely A-OK. If however you’re child is prone to picking up every virus going (and their doctor has ruled out any underlying condition) then in my opinion, it’s no harm in ‘boosting’ their immunity of sorts.
My go-to recommendation for anyone run-down is a probiotic. These play an essential role in supporting and maintaining strong immune and digestive systems. Probiotics are more effective taken as prevention as opposed to treatment, but when taken long-term the vast majority notice major benefits (less reoccurring infections, improved gut health etc). One range available in Irish pharmacies is ‘Biokult’ – with their ‘Infantis’ range targeted at babies and children. Something to note when giving probiotics to your little one however, is they can (and often do) affect their nappies, with an increase in bowel movements until adjusted. If you’re worried about your child picking up an infection (for example, if you’re travelling, or they are starting creche, play school etc) it could be an idea to supplement their diet with a probiotic beforehand.
Another dietary requirement worth mentioning is Omega Fatty Acid. Omega 3 (specifically DHA and EPA) is extremely beneficial in brain, nerve and eye development in babies and toddlers. If your little one is getting omega 3-6-9 dense food (oily fish such as salmon, cod liver, mackerel, as well as nuts, olive oil etc) twice a week or more then they should be fine, but if not then it could be an idea to supplement their diet. I often recommend ‘Eskimo Kids’, which contains Omega 3, Omega 6, Omega 9, Vitamin D and E.
As for building your child’s immune system back up after an infection, tonics such as Fosfor (phosphorylcolamine) are great for increasing appetite (indicated for ages 3+). Something like Vivioptal Junior (12 months plus) is also an option for that much coveted ‘boost’ – this contains Vitamin A, B1,2,3,5,6,7,12, C, D, E as well as folic acid.
If you’re in doubt at all, ask to speak to the pharmacist when you’re browsing the vitamin section – their advice is always free and to be honest they’re probably itching for a break from the dispensary!