12 Vitamins Pediatricians Give Their Own Kids
There are aisles and aisles of vitamin supplements—but which ones do your kids really need? Here's what pediatricians recommend.
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It can be challenging to make sure your child eats a well-balanced diet, especially if they’re a fussy eater. However, it’s important for children to get the right amount of vitamins and minerals to ensure proper growth and health. In some cases, supplementation may be necessary to ensure they get their daily dietary requirements of certain nutrients.
But, with a wide assortment of vitamin supplements available, which ones do they really need?
Our pediatricians share the 12 vitamins they give their kids for optimal health.
Breastfeeding provides babies with plenty of health benefits, but an adequate amount of vitamin D isn’t one of them. So you’ll need to provide supplementation for your little one to ensure he gets enough. “All breastfed infants should have vitamin D supplementation, 400 IU per day, to support bone health,” says Natasha Burgert, MD, a pediatrician in Kansas City, Missouri. It is most necessary while exclusively breastfeeding since baby formula is fortified.
While it’s important for breastfed babies, it’s also key for kids—especially as we slather on the sunscreen to protect their skin and keep them from manufacturing the “sunshine vitamin” in their own skin. Research links vitamin D levels with bone and muscle health—and researchers have found associations between vitamin D deficiency and possible health issues like heart disease, cancer, and multiple sclerosis. (Find out the 9 signs you’re not getting enough vitamin D.)
Iron might be necessary
“Nearing four to six months of age, you may need to add daily iron support as the iron levels naturally drop in breast milk near the six-month mark,” Dr. Burgert. “All children should be checked for anemia caused by insufficient iron levels as they near their first birthday. If there is evidence—through lab work or diet history—that a child is iron deficient, doctors recommend additional iron supplementation through age two.” Feed your baby these iron-rich foods to help reduce the chance of deficiency.
Consider a multivitamin
“A basic multivitamin in a normal child will supply enough vitamin supplement,” recommends Michelle Davis-Dash, MD, a board-certified pediatrician and a Mommy MD guide in Baltimore. That said, “Don’t go crazy! Know that there can be too much of a good thing. Be careful especially to stay within the recommended dose of vitamin A—300 to 600 micrograms/day for children to age 13, she says. “Too much vitamin A can cause several issues, including night blindness and other visual changes.” (These are the vitamins you should take at every age.)
Be cautious with gummy vitamins
Gummies are fun and make getting your kids to take vitamins easier, but the doctors suggest you think twice. “Most gummies are packaged in clear containers in order to see the fun shapes and colors,” Dr. Burgert says. “Light exposure can break down vitamin structure. Since you never know how long those gummies have been on the shelf, it’s likely that you are just offering your child a gummy candy with little nutritional benefit.”
Rallie McAllister, MD, a family physician in Lexington, Kentucky, and co-author of The Mommy MD Guide to Getting Your Baby to Sleep, warns “much like gummy candy, the sugars in gummy vitamins can contribute to dental cavities.” She adds, “That said, if the only vitamin a child will take is a gummy, it might be worth the trade-off—just be sure to have him brush and floss his teeth well.” And you’ll have to be cautious that your young kids mistake these for candy and ingest too much.
Consider a little extra magnesium
“The typical American diet is low in magnesium, and can lead to difficulty relaxing, muscle tension, constipation, and headaches,” says Dr. McAllister. “Magnesium helps soothe and relax the gastrointestinal tract, which makes it an excellent remedy for occasional constipation. This is why so many over-the-counter constipation remedies include magnesium, such as Milk of Magnesia and magnesium citrate.” Learn more about what health issues magnesium deficiency can cause.
Add in omega-3s
Previous research has found links between brain development and omega-3s, which is why many formulas tout the addition (breastfeeding moms can eat omega-3 rich foods like salmon to get the same benefits). However, in a 2016 updated systematic review on the effects of omega-3 supplementation and maternal and child health, the Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality concluded there’s no consistent evidence of its effects on peripartum maternal or infant health outcomes. Since the evidence for supplementation is not so strong, food sources may offer a safer alternative for getting omega-3. The National Institutes of Health lists its recommended intake for omega-3 based on age, gender, pregnancy, and lactation status.
Skip the supplemental shakes
“I never recommend these shakes to kids with normal growth,” Dr. Burgert says. In her experience, kids who drink store-bought supplemental shakes wind up being even pickier eaters than they were in the first place. Find out the 7 tricks to making your own healthy smoothies that even the pickiest eater will love.
Probiotics may be helpful
“Probiotics have been proven to be beneficial in shortening infectious diarrhea by one day and may have other benefits that have yet to be well researched,” Dr. Davis-Dash suggests. Many doctors recommend supplementing with probiotics to help improve gut health when taking antibiotics. Discover all the health benefits of probiotics.
Step up the fiber
Although it’s better to get adequate fiber from their diet, if your child loves his or her mac-and-cheese, adding a little extra fiber to their diet may be a good idea. “As a general rule most folks do not take enough fiber in their regular diet,” Dr. Davis-Dash says. “Fiber supplementation is not a bad idea, but not a necessity.” Read more on the health benefits of fiber.
Make a multivitamin part of the teen years
As kids hit their final growth spurt—and their dietary habits start to shift—a little extra supplementation won’t hurt. “Remember how you ate as a teen?” Dr. Davis-Dash says. “As children grow into adolescence and through young adulthood, it is a good idea to supplement their increasingly poor diets with a complete multivitamin, making sure that teenage girls get folate, calcium, and vitamin D.”
Pay attention to dietary gaps
“Some children who have a restricted diet, such as a vegetarian diet with no dairy products, may need extra vitamin supplementation,” says Jean Moorjani, MD, a pediatrician at Orlando Health’s Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. If you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may need to supplement vitamin B12, iron, and zinc to ensure your child meets proper levels. Learn what nutrients you may be missing in a meatless diet.
Be wary of biotin
Biotin has been billed as building strong nails and thicker, healthier hair, but doctors aren’t sold on it as a supplement for kids or teens. “Right now, there aren’t any studies that fully support biotin as being a treatment for acne,” Dr. Moorjani says. “There are articles that say biotin causes acne, and others show that it may help. It’s probably unnecessary to give to kids as a daily supplement now with the information we have.” See what vitamins can boost healthy hair and skin.
- Natasha Burgert, MD, pediatrician, Kansas City
- Michelle Davis-Dash, MD, board-certified pediatrician and Mommy MD guide, Baltimore
- Rallie McAllister, MD, family physician and co-author of The Mommy MD Guide to Getting Your Baby to Sleep, Lexington, Kentucky
- Brain Research: “Dietary omega 3 fatty acids and the developing brain”
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Maternal and Child Health"
- National Institutes of Health: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids"