Vitamins and Healthy Start

It's recommended that all pregnant and breastfeeding women and children over six months and under five years old take vitamin supplements.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is very important for you and your baby. It helps your body to absorb calcium, which is essential for keeping bones healthy throughout life. Vitamin D helps to make sure the bones and teeth of both you and your child become and remain strong.


What happens to children who don’t get enough vitamin D?

Low levels of vitamin D in babies and children can lead to rickets, which affects the way bones develop and grow. The bones of a child with rickets are unable to support their body weight, resulting in bowed legs or knock knees.


How do I know if my child is getting enough vitamin D?

Some possible signs of low levels of vitamin D are:

  1. bone and muscle pain
  2. soft skull
  3. weak teeth and delayed growth of teeth
  4. delayed walking

Severe vitamin D deficiency can cause low levels of calcium in the blood, leading to muscle cramps, seizures and breathing difficulties.


What other sources of vitamin D are there?

Sunshine is the best source of vitamin D, although only from April until September.  To stay safe in the sun while getting vitamin D, you should go outside for 15 minutes without sunscreen three to four times a week, then apply sunscreen. You do not need to sunbathe, tan or burn to get vitamin D.

Food Vitamin D is found naturally in small amounts in some foods. The main sources are oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout. However, while you are pregnant, you should eat no more than two portions of oily fish a week (where each portion is 140g).

There is also a small amount of vitamin D in eggs and fortified foods, such as some breakfast cereals.


Who should take vitamin D supplements?

For pregnant women, new mums and children from four week to four years old, extra vitamin D is required for healthy bones. Therefore it is important to take supplements containing the recommended amount, even if you think you are getting enough daily sun exposure.

You are at particular risk of vitamin D deficiency if you:

  • Are of Asian, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin
  • Cover up your skin for cultural reasons
  • Are confined indoors
  • Are overweight.


Free vitamins and Healthy Start

Tablets for women containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D, and drops for children containing 7.5 micrograms of vitamin D, are available for free as part of the Lewisham Free D scheme.

The women’s tablets also contain the recommended amounts of folic acid, so it’s not necessary to take folic acid supplements separately.

For more information, visit or ask your health visitor or midwife for details.

Every baby in Lewisham is also offered free Healthy Start vitamins from four weeks old to four years old, and all mums are offered vitamins for the first year. You will need to register at your local pharmacist to receive the vitamins.

If you receive certain benefits, or are under 18, you can apply for Healthy Start vouchers to buy food and vitamins. Simply take the voucher along to your local pharmacist to claim your vitamins.

Ask your health visitor for a Healthy Start application form or apply online.