As a parent, it is hard to know if your child’s diet is giving them everything they need.  We were raised knowing, “If we want to get tall, we need to drink our milk.”  I still remember not being able to leave the table until I ate all my Brussels sprouts (Ick!).  There have been weeks in my house when my son has lived on Mini-Wheats and apple slices, and the closest he has come to “Eating the Rainbow” was the bag of sour patch kids my wife let him have for breakfast.   

            Luckily there is a small chewable pill that in our medicine cabinet that should be labeled “PARENTAL GUILT-REDUCER.”   Multivitamins make us feel better when we think we did a “bad job” parenting.  The question is: Do they work?

            A study in the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine in 2009 showed that the children who were most likely to use vitamins were the least likely to need them.  Those who used vitamins had “higher milk intake, lower total fat and cholesterol intake, increased dietary fiber intake” compared to those who did not use vitamins. (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(2):150157)  So, there is a good chance that if you are worried enough to think about giving a vitamin you are already giving your child a well-rounded diet

Very few quality studies have shown reproducible benefits from multivitamin supplementation on things like prevention of upper respiratory infections, ADHD, improved appetite or weight gain, or prevention of other infections. However, a few areas of continued research show definite benefit from a few specific vitamins. 

  • Ensuring that your child gets the recommended amount 400 IU (and not an excessive amount!) of Vitamin D and Calcium leads to improved bone health.  There is some conflicting evidence that 400 IU of Vitamin D may help prevent infections, cancer and autoimmune disease, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
  • The AAP recently recommended an increase in the iron supplementation for infants and toddlers.  For a short summary go here (http://bit.ly/9ojJUb ) or read my summary: If you are breastfeeding, consider poly-vi-sol with iron (of course, also consider that it stains and it smells), be sure to add iron containing foods early in your solid food rotation, keep giving iron containing foods throughout toddlerhood.  Oh and don’t eat paint-chips.
  • There is some very early research that shows that fish oil (200-300 mg) taken by moms-to-be improves vision and IQ in infants.  Early research also indicates that fish oil supplements for children at a level of 100mg daily may decrease number of upper respiratory infections and decrease likelihood of developing asthma.  DHA consumption in the elderly also appears to help prevent dementia.

While the AAP may not recommend it, a standard Flintstone chewable vitamin with iron +/- some fish oil is very unlikely to hurt your child.  If a multivitamin allows you to fall asleep focusing on the 20 other things you feel guilty about as a parent instead of how poorly your toddler over-whom-you-have-no-control ate today, then give it to them.  Just remember to brush their teeth afterwards because those things will tear up your tooth enamel.