Breast Milk and Vitamin D Deficiencies or Subclinical Rickets

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

I, and other experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and lactation consultants, have said that “breast is best” when it comes to feeding your infant. In breast milk, nature has provided the perfect food for human babies. Breast milk is the right proportion of fat, carbohydrates, and other nutrients to support a growing baby.

Breast-feeding is readily available, convenient for you and your baby, and requires no bottle washing, mixing, or warming.

Not to mention, breastfeeding provides emotional and physical benefits for you and your infant. Breastfeeding’s benefits include:

  • Releases oxytocin, a powerful hormone that promotes bonding between mother and baby while also helping the mother to physically recover from childbirth
  • Provides your baby protection against allergies, eczema, and infections
  • Lays a healthy foundation for your child’s weight and metabolic health over their life

All this being said, if breast milk is so ideal, why do I want to talk with you about a potential vitamin D deficiency?

I’ll explain, because the consequences of too little vitamin D can be severe.

In this article;

  1. Way too little Vitamin D is a Problem
  2. Why Breast Milk is Low in Vitamin D?
  3. The Best Way To Remedy A Vitamin D Deficiency In Breast Milk
  4. The Reason Supplementing Your Baby Isn’t Optimal
  5. Get Your Vitamin D Levels Assessed

Why Too Little Vitamin D Is A Problem

Vitamin D is vital for your baby’s immune system, bone formation, and sleep.

As well, because it’s an anti-spasmodic, it helps prevent colic in your infant.

Perhaps the most important reason for your infant to consume enough vitamin D is to prevent a condition called subclinical rickets. A condition that’s subclinical is considered to be not yet severe enough to present definite or readily observable symptoms. But left undiagnosed, it will lead to a full-blown case of the disease.

Rickets is a disease of children. Its main cause is vitamin D deficiency. Sometimes it can be triggered by low calcium or phosphorus, but vitamin D deficiency is definitely the primary reason a child develops rickets.

Its symptoms are severe enough to disable or disfigure a child for life. They are:

  • Soft bones
  • Bowed legs
  • Knock knees: a condition in which the legs curve inward so that the feet are apart when the knees are touching
  • Scoliosis: an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine
  • Retarded growth: poor or abnormally slow height and weight gains
  • Dental malformations

As you can see, we take the potential for rickets very seriously because of the drastic implications it has for your baby’s health.

Along with rickets prevention, vitamin D is essential to help prevent auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and lupus, as well as respiratory infections.

When I dug into the research, I came across a very interesting article which stated that 44 randomly selected infants with lower respiratory infections were evaluated for subclinical rickets. Of the 44, 7 - 16 percent - turned out to have subclinical rickets.

16 percent is a high rate of subclinical rickets, which points to an unacceptable high risk level. And all 44 of the infants had low vitamin D status in addition to respiratory infections.

You know how common respiratory infections are in babies. Imagine what a difference it would make to ensure their vitamin D status was optimal.

And that’s without taking into consideration the potential relief from colic, given vitamin D’s antispasmodic properties. Colic is caused by a spasm in the smooth muscle of the baby’s digestive system. If you’ve ever cared for a colicky baby, you know how debilitating it is for them (and how heart-wrenching it is for you).

Given vitamin D’s importance, why is it so common for breast milk to be deficient in it?

Let’s take a look.


Why Breast Milk Is Low In Vitamin D

Breast milk contains surprisingly small amounts of vitamin D. One cup of breast milk will give your baby only 1% of the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for vitamin D.

So, if breast milk is ideal, why does it have a deficiency of such a crucial vitamin?

It’s not an inherent flaw in an otherwise optimal food; rather, you probably lack sufficient vitamin D in your diet because a startlingly high number of Americans have insufficient vitamin D levels: nearly 42 percent of all adults, with the highest rates in African Americans (82%) and Hispanics (69 percent).

So what’s the solution?


The Best Way To Remedy A Vitamin D Deficiency In Breast Milk

The best way to improve vitamin D levels in both mother and baby is for the breastfeeding mother to take vitamin D supplementation in the form of cod liver oil. I recommend a high quality, virgin cod liver oil consumed on a daily basis.

a woman taking cod liver oil

Other excellent sources of vitamin D supplements include fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, but cod liver oil truly is one of the best sources. And an alternative remedy is for the lactating mother to get sun exposure so the rays can hit her skin. This triggers her body to synthesize vitamin D.

Research shows that mothers who breast feed and who receive high dose vitamin D supplementation - as much as 4000 to 6400 IU a day - can get their breast milk adequately enriched for infants. Though there is debate within the mainstream medical community about the safe amount of vitamin D supplementation for adults, recent research has indicated that pregnant and lactating women might need more vitamin D than adults who are not bearing children.

Before you take action, be sure to check with your physician to have your own vitamin D levels assessed by a blood test. Researchers are still determining what optimal levels of vitamin D should be, but the following can serve as a guideline for assessing your test results:

  • 20 ng/mL: Vitamin D deficiency
  • 20–31 ng/mL: Vitamin D insufficiency
  • 32 ng/mL: Sufficient vitamin D levels

The Reason Supplementing Your Baby Isn’t Optimal

Often, a healthcare provider will recommend vitamin D supplementation for your baby. While at first this seems sensible, realize that supplementing your baby takes care of their needs but doesn’t address your own vitamin D deficiency. You being deficient in this vitamin may lead to long-term, chronic compromises in your own health, such as:

  • Impaired immunity
  • Increased risk of autoimmune diseases, as I already mentioned, including type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and lupus
  • Myopathy (a disease of the muscle in which the muscle fibers do not function properly)
  • Increased risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers

Additionally, higher vitamin D levels have also been associated with increased longevity.

You see how crucial having optimal vitamin D levels are for both your baby and you, right?


Get Your Vitamin D Levels Assessed So You Know How To Protect The Health Of You And Your Baby

Breast really is best when it comes to feeding your infant. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing with this nutritious, perfectly proportioned food designed for your baby to grow and thrive.

As I said, a vitamin D deficiency in breast milk isn’t some inherent flaw; rather, it’s a logical outcome of a surprisingly common condition.

Because the consequences of too little vitamin D can be so severe, I know you’ll want to take action to ensure your baby has the healthiest possible start to their life...strong bones and teeth, adequate growth, and a straight spine.

Since you too stand to reap substantial health benefits from optimizing your vitamin D levels, it’s truly a win all around.

If you’re a lactating mom, do both of you a huge favor and get a blood test to check your vitamin D levels.

If they’re fine, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.

If they’re too low, you can feel confident about taking action to remedy the deficiency and know you’re doing your best for your baby’s health as well as your own.

Contact your physician today!

baby feeding at mom’s’ breast


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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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