BREASTFEEDING babies in Scotland should take daily vitamin D supplements from birth in order to protect their bones and muscles, doctors have said.

The Scottish Government's Chief Medical Officer has updated health advice which is to be given to all pregnant women from this point on.

Vitamin D, known as the "sunshine vitamin" helps maintain calcium levels in the body to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy, and a deficiency can lead to rickets in children or bone pain and muscle weakness in adults, known as osteomalacia.

The new recommendations bring Scotland into line with the rest of the UK, and come from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.


Vitamin D is absorbed naturally through the skin from sunlight, and Scots are most at risk of suffering a D deficiency because of the lack of sunshine during winter and often during the summer months as well.

Diet is also known to be a factor. 

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Previously, it was thought that breastfeeding babies received enough of the vitamin from their mothers, but this is now not thought to be the case.

However, the official advice issued by NHS Scotland still insists that breast milk is the "ideal" food for babies.

Babies who are formula fed do not need to take supplements if they are having at least 500ml of milk a day, as infant formula already has added vitamin D.

Dr Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, said: “We get most of the vitamin D we need from sunlight during summer months. However, anyone can experience a vitamin D deficiency.

"New born 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.”


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Some mothers and infants have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency including those who wear concealing clothing, those with darker skin types and babies of overweight or diabetic mothers.

Breastfeeding women and children up to 4-years-old who are eligible for the government's Healthy Start programme can get free supplements containing vitamin D.

The advice calls for breastfed babies from birth up to one year of age to be given a supplement of 8.5 to 10 mg of vitamin D per day.

Healthy Start vitamins are available free of charge to all pregnant women in Scotland for the duration of their pregnancy, regardless of their entitlement to the scheme.

Last year the Scottish Government issued advice for everyone to take daily doses of the vitamin during the autumn and winter, and not just at-risk groups such as pregnant women, adults over 65 and people with darker skin as well those who do not expose their skin to sunlight.

It also emerged that the vitamin may boost fertility, according to Scientists from the University of Edinburgh who studied a population of wild sheep living on a remote Scottish island.


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The researchers found that sheep with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood at the end of the summer had more lambs the following spring.

The researchers studied an unmanaged population of Soay sheep on St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, where sheep have lived wild for thousands of years.

It is hoped the research will help other mammals, including humans.