The guidance, issued by Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood, recommends all babies from birth up to one year of age, as well as pregnant women, take a precautionary daily supplement of vitamin D to protect their bones.
The move brings Scotland in line with the rest of the UK and follows new advice from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.
The new guidance recommends that babies start vitamins within the first two weeks of birth. This is earlier than six months previously recommended. Also, as a precaution, breastfed babies from birth up to the age of one should be given a supplement of 8.5 to 10μg/d vitamin D per day. Babies who are formula fed do not require vitamin D as it is already added to the milk.
Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children.
Recent figures suggest a four-fold increase in incidents of rickets over the last 15 years.
Vitamin D is absorbed naturally from the sun, however in countries, such as those in the UK, the sun is not strong enough to make vitamin D in the winter months. This is why Vitamin D supplements are now recommended for everyone in the UK.
According to Scotland’s CMO, living and working indoors and using suncreams also means fewer people are able to make vitamin D. Women and children who wear concealing clothes, who have darker skin types and babies of overweight or diabetic mothers are most at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Dr Calderwood said, ‘We get most of the vitamin D we need from sunlight during summer months. However, anyone can experience a vitamin D deficiency. Newborn babies depend on their mother’s levels during pregnancy meaning it is important that pregnant women, and babies up to a year old, continue to receive a daily supplement.
‘This new guidance reflects the latest available evidence and will help ensure the best start for children. It is essential that parents and guardians are properly supported to follow this new advice, which is why additional, specific guidance for them and healthcare professionals has been created to support implementation.’
Prof Steve Turner, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s Officer for Scotland, said:
'Vitamin D is an essential part of a child’s diet. Vitamin D is essential for good bone and teeth growth, and as part of a healthy balanced diet is important to overall health and well-being in children. Vitamin D can be made in the skin after sun exposure but for obvious reasons we mostly depend on diet as a source of vitamin D in Scotland. That’s why it is so important, as Scottish’s Government’s newly revised guidance outlines, that parents give their children a daily vitamin D supplement up until they are one year old.'