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Breastfeeding mother getting 6400 IU of Vitamin D is similar to infant getting 400 IU – RCT Sept 2015

Maternal Versus Infant Vitamin D Supplementation During Lactation: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Pediatrics (doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-1669)
Bruce W. Hollis, PhDa, Carol L. Wagner, MDa, Cynthia R. Howard, MDb, Myla Ebeling, RAc, Judy R. Shary, MSa, Pamela G. Smith, BSNa, Sarah N. Taylor, MDa, Kristen Morella, MSc, Ruth A. Lawrence, MDb, and Thomas C. Hulsey, ScDc

  • a Division of Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics, Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital, Charleston, South Carolina;
  • b Department of Pediatrics, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York; and
  • c Department of Epidemiology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia


Note Vitamin D goes into breastmilk, not Calcidiol - click on chart for details
VitaminDWiki Comment

  • Vitamin D is needed DAILY while breast feeding - IF mother is vitamin D deficent - which does not allow any vitamin D to be stored in the fat.
  • DAILY supplementation is not needed if sufficient vitamin D is available to be stored in the fat

See also VitaminDWiki

Healthy pregnancies need lots of vitamin D has the following summary

0. Chance of not conceiving3.4 times Observe
1. Miscarriage 2.5 times Observe
2. Pre-eclampsia 3.6 timesRCT
3. Gestational Diabetes 3 times RCT
4. Good 2nd trimester sleep quality 3.5 times Observe
5. Premature birth 2 times RCT
6. C-section - unplanned 1.6 timesObserve
     Stillbirth - OMEGA-3 4 timesRCT - Omega-3
7. Depression AFTER pregnancy 1.4 times RCT
8. Small for Gestational Age 1.6 times meta-analysis
9. Infant height, weight, head size
     within normal limits
10. Childhood Wheezing 1.3 times RCT
11. Additional child is Autistic 4 times Intervention
12.Young adult Multiple Sclerosis 1.9 timesObserve
13. Preeclampsia in young adult 3.5 timesRCT
14. Good motor skills @ age 31.4 times Observe
15. Childhood Mite allergy 5 times RCT
16. Childhood Respiratory Tract visits 2.5 times RCT

RCT = Randomized Controlled Trial

VitaminDWiki pages containing BREASTFED or BREASTFEEDING in title (34 as of Jan 2022)

This list is automatically updated

Items found: 39
Title Modified
Breastfeeding Vitamin D loading dose of 300,000 IU is OK - UK govt. Dec 2023 04 Jan, 2024
Vitamin D levels of breastfeeding mothers and infants in 3 cities – Feb 2015 29 Aug, 2023
Breastfeeding and Vitamin D - many studies 29 Aug, 2023
Breastfed Infants need more than an daily average of 800 IU of Vitamin D – RCT June 2022 21 Jun, 2022
Need at least 6,000 IU of Vitamin D daily during pregnancy and breastfeeding (Wagner) – meta-analysis March 2022 15 Apr, 2022
Monthly 120,000 IU of Vitamin D while breastfeeding was good – RCT Jan 2022 11 Jan, 2022
Breastfeeding is almost always associated with infant vitamin D deficiency – Dec 2021 14 Dec, 2021
Need at least 6,000 IU daily while breastfeeding to eliminate Vitamin D deficiency – meta-analysis Oct 2021 01 Nov, 2021
400 IU of Vitamin D helped breastfed infants, need more – RCT Sept 2021 01 Sep, 2021
36X more likely for an infant to be low vitamin D if exclusively breastfed (Hong Kong) – March 2021 26 Jul, 2021
6,400 IU of Vitamin D is safe and effective during breastfeeding – RCT Dec, 2020 16 Dec, 2020
Breastfeeding a child without adding vitamin D increases risk of many food allergies (egg whites in this case) – Jan 2020 12 Jan, 2020
Omega-3 during pregnancy and breastfeeding is recommended – May 2019 23 May, 2019
Maternal vitamin D deficiency can trigger rickets in breastfed infants – review March 2013 03 Feb, 2019
Biochemical rickets non-existent if breastfeeding mother got 600,000 IU of vitamin D (3 dollars) – RCT Dec 2017 03 Mar, 2018
Breastfed infant bones not helped by 800 IU of Vitamin D (not enough) – RCT Dec 2017 12 Dec, 2017
Extended breastfeeding cut in half the risk of Multiple Sclerosis – July 2017 28 Nov, 2017
Mother got 100,000 IU of vitamin D monthly, breastfeeding infant got a little – RCT Aug 2016 13 Sep, 2017
Breastfeeding mothers and Vitamin D: supplement only themselves usually, 4 out of 10 used monthly rather than daily – Jan 2017 05 Aug, 2017
Severe childhood dental problems 2.4 X more likely if breastfed for more than two years (low vitamin D) – June 2017 02 Jul, 2017
Vitamin D required for breastfed infants – daily or monthly, infant or mother – Jan 2017 20 May, 2017
Breastfeeding mother getting 6400 IU of Vitamin D is similar to infant getting 400 IU – RCT Sept 2015 25 Jan, 2017
Breastfed infants 6 times more likely to deficient in Vitamin D and Iron – Aug 2015 20 Jun, 2016
Breastfed infants: 90 percent had less than 20 ng of vitamin D, formula-fed: 15 percent – May 2013 20 Jun, 2016
Breastfed child needs even more vitamin D supplementation after 1 year – Feb 2016 28 Feb, 2016
Breastfeeding exclusively may not be best strategy for bone health (if not add vitamin D) – Feb 2016 16 Feb, 2016
NutraIngredients.com Breastfeeding exclusively may not be best strategy for bone health (if not add vitamin D) - Feb 2016 16 Feb, 2016
Breastfed infants may get enough vitamin D (provided mom gets 6400 IU) - Oct 2015 07 Oct, 2015
400 IU vitamin D for breastfed - American Association of Pediatrics - Feb 2012 23 Sep, 2014
16% of exclusively breastfed infants so low on vitamin D that they had rickets – June 2010 28 Aug, 2014
Breastfed without vitamin D supplements – a problem for NZ infants Jan 2013 28 Aug, 2014
Breastfeeding with daily or monthly doses of vitamin D virtually the same – RCT Dec 2013 01 Feb, 2014
Breastfeeding with daily or monthly doses of vitamin D fairly similar – Dec 2013 14 Dec, 2013
6400 IU vitamin D is effective during breastfeeding – Oct 2010 14 Dec, 2013
Breastfed Infants in Iowa got very little vitamin D, especially if winter or dark skin – July 2013 05 Jul, 2013
Only about 10 percent of breastfed infants get even the minimum recommended vitamin D – April 2010 26 Jun, 2013
Breastfed infants in Germany with 250 IU of vitamin D got to 56ng – Sept 2010 04 Sep, 2012
Hypothesis – vitamin D links breastfeeding difficulties and depression – July 2011 19 Jul, 2011
Vitamin D for breastfeeding - Hollis medical slides 2010 No value for 'modification_date_major'


 Download the PDF from VitaminDWiki


OBJECTIVE: Compare effectiveness of maternal vitamin D3 supplementation with 6400 IU per day alone to maternal and infant supplementation with 400 IU per day.

METHODS: Exclusively lactating women living in Charleston, SC, or Rochester, NY, at 4 to 6 weeks postpartum were randomized to either 400, 2400, or 6400 IU vitamin D3/day for 6 months. Breastfeeding infants in 400 IU group received oral 400 IU vitamin D3/day; infants in 2400 and 6400 IU groups received 0 IU/day (placebo). Vitamin D deficiency was defined as 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25(OH)D) <50 nmol/L. 2400 IU group ended in 2009 as greater infant deficiency occurred. Maternal serum vitamin D, 25(OH)D, calcium, and phosphorus concentrations and urinary calcium/creatinine ratios were measured at baseline then monthly, and infant blood parameters were measured at baseline and months 4 and 7.

RESULTS: Of the 334 mother-infant pairs in 400 IU and 6400 IU groups at enrollment, 216 (64.7%) were still breastfeeding at visit 1; 148 (44.3%) continued full breastfeeding to 4 months and 95 (28.4%) to 7 months. Vitamin D deficiency in breastfeeding infants was greatly affected by race. Compared with 400 IU vitamin D3 per day, 6400 IU/day safely and significantly increased maternal vitamin D and 25(OH)D from baseline (P < .0001). Compared with breastfeeding infant 25(OH)D in the 400 IU group receiving supplement, infants in the 6400 IU group whose mothers only received supplement did not differ.

CONCLUSIONS: Maternal vitamin D supplementation with 6400 IU/day safely supplies breast milk with adequate vitamin D to satisfy her nursing infant’s requirement and offers an alternate strategy to direct infant supplementation.

Dr Hollis, as the principal investigator (PI) of the project, worked with Dr Wagner in the conception of the project, study design, implementation of the study, laboratory analyses, data analyses, and writing of the manuscript; Dr, Wagner as clinical PI of the study, worked with Drs Hollis and Howard, site PI at the University of Rochester (U of R), and all other coinvestigators in the conception of the project, study design, implementation of the study, review of clinical and laboratory data, subject safety, data analyses, and writing of the manuscript; Dr Howard as clinical site PI at the U of R worked directly with Dr Wagner; she was involved in the conception of the project, study design, implementation of the study, laboratory analyses, data analyses, and writing of the manuscript; Ms Ebeling, as Data Manager and part of the biostatistics team, was involved in all aspects of study design, data analyses, and interpretation of the data, writing of the manuscript; Ms Shary, as project manager, was involved in study design, data collection, and data analyses, as well as interpretation of the data and writing of the manuscript;


Breast milk has long been held as the "perfect” food for the human neonate with one caveat: it contains insufficient vitamin D for nursing neonates to maintain minimal circulating levels of the precursor hormone 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25(OH)D; calcidiol), and thus skeletal integrity.1 In fact, when compared with formula-fed infants, solely breastfed infants are at increased risk of developing rickets.2-3 This is especially true in African American breastfed infants.4 Vitamin D activity in "normal” lactating women's milk is known to be in the range of 5 to 80 IU/L depending on the method of assay1-5-6; however, the vitamin D content of human milk can be greatly increased by maternal oral vitamin D supplementation and/or increasing solar exposure of the mother.7-9 Infants solely breastfed by women with vitamin D intakes of 400 IU/day typically attain a circulating 25(OH)D concentration in the marginally sufficient to severely deficient (<12.5 nmol/L) range.10 Therefore, to address this risk of deficiency, supplementation of all breastfeeding infants beginning within a few days of birth has been recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)11 and the Institute of Medicine (IOM).1 Although this has been the recommendation for decades, it is rarely followed for various reasons, with low compliance ranging from 2% to 19%,12-15 leaving the nursing infant at significant risk for vitamin D deficiency.

The amount of vitamin D required by a lactating woman to normalize her own vitamin D status and ensure adequate vitamin D concentrations in her milk for her breastfeeding infant is predicted by known pharmacokinetics about vitamin D transfer into human milk.7,8,16-18 Early studies demonstrated some effectiveness of maternal vitamin D supplementation on increasing circulating 25(OH)D levels in nursing infants.7,8,16,19,20 Our research group performed an interventional study providing 6400 IU vitamin D3 per day to lactating mothers for a 6-month period that produced dramatic increases in both milk vitamin D and infant circulating 25(OH)D concentrations.8 The results of that pilot study became the basis for this larger National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2-site randomized clinical trial (RCT) using 3 maternal doses of oral vitamin D3 in a diverse group of women for a 6-month period starting at 1 month postpartum. Baseline characteristics of the lactating mother and infant cohort have been published previously.21

Our study was designed to test the primary hypothesis that the lactating woman requires substantially more dietary vitamin D than the amount received from maternal supplementation with 400 IU/day.1,11 We based our maternal supplementation dosing on previous studies: for every 1000 IU per day vitamin D3, milk antirachitic activity would increase by ~80 IU/L in a way that would sustain the nursing infant.8,22 Thus, if successful, our strategy could offer an alternative to the largely failed direct infant supplementation strategy.1,11,14,15 The findings of this supplementation trial are presented here.


This was a randomized, double-blind, comparative effectiveness trial of 3 doses of vitamin D supplementation in lactating mothers and their breastfeeding infants (November 2005-August 2012). The study was conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and the University of Rochester (U of R). Approval was granted by (1) MUSC's Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects HR 16536 and Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC; Protocol 752); and (2) U of R's Institutional Review Board (14460) and CTRC (Protocol 1129), and registered via ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00412074.
Following written informed consent, mothers were randomized to 1 of 3 vitamin D supplementation regimens:

  • Group 1: 400 IU vitamin D3 per day (0 IU vitamin D3: placebo and 1 prenatal vitamin containing 400 IU vitamin D3);
  • Group 2: 2400 IU (2000 vitamin D3 per day and 1 prenatal containing 400 IU vitamin D3); and
  • Group 3: 6400 IU vitamin D3 per day (6000 IU vitamin D3 and 1 prenatal vitamin containing 400 IU vitamin D3).

Breastfeeding infants also were given 1 drop per day of a liquid suspension vitamin D supplement (Bio-D-Mulsion, Biotics Research, Rosenberg, TX) as follows: those infants in Group 1 received 400 IU vitamin D3 as previously described,23 and infants in Groups 2 and 3 received a placebo emulsion containing 0 IU vitamin D3 for the 6-month study period.
Mothers and infants were evaluated monthly with maternal blood samples and urine samples obtained at those visits. Infant urine samples were obtained monthly but blood samples were drawn only at baseline (4-6 weeks postpartum; V1), month 4 (V4), and month 7 (V7).
Exclusively breastfeeding mothers and their singleton infants receiving no other form of nutrition other than human milk at the time of study entry24,25 within 4 to 6 weeks postpartum were eligible for inclusion in the study if they planned to continue exclusive/full breastfeeding for the next 6 months.24,26 Infants had to be $35 weeks' gestation and in good general health at the time of enrollment. Exclusion criteria are summarized in the Methods section of the Supplemental information.
Outcome Measures
Laboratory Measurements
Maternal and infant baseline serum calcium and phosphorus were measured using standard methodology and laboratory normative data by MUSC's and U of R's Clinical Chemistry Laboratories. Cross-validation between laboratories was performed for 5% of the samples (interassay variation 5.4%).
Circulating 25(OH)D and vitamin D (parent compound) were measured using high performance liquid chromatography and radioimmunoassay techniques as previously described.27-30 On the basis of clinical laboratory classifications31,32 and the work of Heaney et al33 and Vieth et al,35,36 deficiency was defined a priori as total circulating 25(OH)D <50 nmol/L (<20 ng/mL).16,30,32,36 The inter- and intraassay coefficient of variation was #10% (see Methods in the Supplemental Information).
Maternal and Infant Circulating intact PTH Concentrations were measured by immunoradiometric assay (Diasorin, Stillwater, MN).37

Statistical Methods

Sample Size and Power Considerations
One hundred and eighty-nine participants were to be randomized into 3 treatment arms, with 63 per supplementation arm substratified by race/ethnicity. With stopping of the 2400 IU arm (see Methods in the Supplemental Information for details), there were to be 126 mother/infant pairs enrolled in the two remaining arms. The loss of the 2400 IU group (see Methods in the Supplemental Information) did not alter the capability of the other arms in assessing their effectiveness because each can be viewed as an independent trial.

Of the 564 women who consented to participate in the study, 175 women/ infant pairs met exclusion criteria (Fig 1). Of the remaining women, 389 women met the criterion for exclusive breastfeeding at entrance into the study and had baseline 25(OH)D concentrations measured; 55 were in the 2400 IU group and excluded from final analysis, with 334 mother/infant pairs randomized to the 400 IU and 6400 IU groups. Allocation, interim analysis, follow-up, and final analysis as well as reasons for exclusion at V4 and V7 are included in Fig 1 and in the Results section of the Supplemental Information.

Statistical Analyses

The primary outcome was change from baseline maternal and infant total circulating 25(OH)D concentrations at 4 and 7 months postpartum in exclusively/fully lactating pairs by treatment group, and the secondary outcome was the percent of women and infants by treatment group with 25(OH)D <50 nmol/L at baseline, 4 and 7 months' postpartum (V4 and V7).
The analysis was undertaken as intention-to-treat in which all exclusively/fully breastfeeding mothers randomized to 1 group were considered to be within that group throughout the analysis.38 Comparison of the 3 treatment groups at entrance into the study was performed to detect potential differences with regard to sociodemographic and baseline clinical characteristics (no statistically significant differences; data not shown). After stopping the 2400 IU arm due to safety concerns for the infants (see Methods in the Supplemental Information), time- point measures were restricted to the 2 remaining 400 IU and 6400 IU treatment groups.

Statistical analyses were performed by using SAS version 9.3 (SAS, Cary, NC). Descriptive statistics were used to characterize and compare the groups at baseline. x2 and analysis of variance were used to test for differences in categorical data. Student's t test analyses were used to test for differences in normally distributed variables. The Wilcoxon rank-sum test was used for analyses involving nonparametric variables. Regression methods (multivariate and logistic) included variables that were significant in bivariate analysis to model 25(OH)D status. Correlation analysis was performed by Spearman's correlation. Significance was set a priori as P < .05.


Of the 334 women randomized into the 400 and 6400 IU arms of the study who had baseline 25(OH)D concentration measured, 118 women stopped exclusively breastfeeding after randomization. Of the remaining 216-exclusively/fully breastfeeding mother-infant pairs enrolled and randomized into the 400 and 6400 IU arms of the study with baseline 25(OH)D values, 148 (64.7%) continued to exclusively/fully breastfeed and completed the study to V4; 95 (28.4%) completed the study through visit 7. As shown in Fig 1, the main reason for subject attrition was change of breastfeeding status. Table 1 summarizes baseline sociodemographic and clinical characteristics data in the 400 vs 6400 IU groups of mothers who were exclusively/fully breastfeeding at the time of enrollment. The average maternal dietary vitamin D intake (IU/day) was ~200 IU/day.

Vitamin D status at baseline for mother and infant by race are found in Table 2. African American mothers and infants had substantially lower circulating 25(OH)D levels than did white subjects with several minority infants exhibiting severe vitamin D deficiency (2.5 nmol/L 25(OH)D) after 1 month of breastfeeding.
Comparison of maternal and infant laboratory parameters in the 400 IU and 6400 IU groups are found in Fig 2A, 2B, 2C, and 2D (see also Supplemental Tables 3, 4, 5, and 6). Whereas women who were exclusively/fully breastfeeding through V4 differed on baseline 25(OH)D by treatment group with a slightly higher initial concentration in the 6400 IU group, this difference was not seen in the group of women who were exclusively/fully breastfeeding through V7. There were similar numbers of women in both treatment groups who met the IOM definition of vitamin D deficiency (25(OH)D <50 nmol/L) at baseline. The other vitamin D-related laboratory values did not differ at baseline between the treatment groups.

FIGURE 1 CONSORT Flow Diagram of Study Participants throughout the Trial. CONSORT, Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials.

By V4 there was a difference in maternal 25(OH)D (Fig 2A) and the parent compound vitamin D but not in other parameters measured. Compared with 6400 IU group, there was a trend with the 400 IU group at V4 being more likely to have 25(OH)D concentration <50 nmol/L. In those women who continued to fully breastfeed through V7, significant differences were noted by treatment group at V4 and V7 with 25(OH)D (Fig 2B) and vitamin D, and additionally at V7 only with iPTH and serum phosphorus being lower in the 6400 IU group. Within group comparisons of the mothers over time revealed the following: exclusively/ fully lactating women in the 400 IU group had -6.5 nmol/L decline in 25(OH)D between V1 and V4 and -10.5 nmol/L decline in 25(OH)D between V1 and V7 (P = .02) compared with +51.3 nmol/L in the 6400 IU group between V1 and V4 that was sustained through V7 (P < .0001). In a model predicting maternal 25(OH)D that included race/ethnicity, treatment, and maternal BMI, treatment with 6400 IU was the strongest predictor (parameter estimate 67.2 6 5.8 nmol/L; P < .0001).

Focusing on the infants in the study, those infants fully breastfed through V4 did not differ by treatment group on any of the parameters measured at either baseline or at V4 (see also Supplemental Tables 5 and 6). Of note, >70% of those babies at 1 month (V1) met the IOM definition of vitamin D deficiency (25(OH)D concentration <50 nmol/L). Those infants who were fully breastfed through V7 did not differ by treatment group at baseline, V4 or V7 on any of the parameters measured but there was deficiency at baseline at any of the visits, which persisted even after controlling for race/ ethnicity (data not shown). Baseline anterior fontanelle area (AFA) did not differ by treatment group (see Table 1). Maternal and infant 25(OH)D concentration at V1 correlated with AFA only in Hispanic infants (P < .05). At V4, there were significant differences between treatment groups: AFA 7.0 6 4.8 cm2 in the 400 IU group infants versus 3.7 6 3.7 cm2 in the 6400 IU group (P = .037).

This difference was not seen in the subcohort of infants who continued to breastfeed through V7.
The number of adverse events and serious adverse events did not differ by treatment group. There were 7 adverse events among the breastfeeding mothers/infants equally distributed by treatment group. The Data and Safety Monitoring Committee (DSMC) deemed these events as not being related to treatment dose.


In this study of 3 dosing schedules in lactating women and their exclusively/fully breastfeeding infants, maternal supplementation with 6400 IU vitamin D3/day was superior to either 2400 IU or 400 IU/ day in safely achieving robust maternal vitamin D sufficiency that allowed sufficient vitamin D transfer in the breast milk for infant vitamin D sufficiency for the 6-month study period. Thus, when compared with infants receiving a daily oral vitamin D supplement of 400 IU/day, infants whose mothers were taking 6400 IU vitamin D daily (as their sole source of vitamin D) achieved equivalent vitamin D status. With appropriate vitamin D intake, the lactating mother can fully transfer from her blood to her milk the vitamin D required to sustain optimal vitamin D nutrition in the nursing infant with no additional supplementation required for the infant.8 Furthermore, the safety profiles of women in each treatment group were equivalent. As viewed by the DSMC, there were no instances of adverse events attributable to vitamin D supplementation.

When this study was initiated, the IOM upper limit for vitamin D was 2000 IU per day.39 An Investigational New Drug application to the US Food and Drug Administration was mandated to conduct both the current study and our pregnancy vitamin D supplementation trials.40-41 Since that time, the IOM has increased the upper limit to 4000 IU per day,1 and the Endocrine Society set the upper limit at 10 000 IU/day.42 During the past decade several studies, including our own, were performed using our original Food and Drug Administration Investigational New Drug application involving several thousand patients. To our knowledge, not a single adverse event has been attributed to vitamin D supplementation at the doses ranging from 2000 to 6400 IU/day.
It is universally accepted that vitamin D toxicity is associated with hypercalciuria, hypercalcemia, and risk of renal stones.1 In 2006, Jackson et al43 published the Women's Health Initiative study that claimed an adjusted vitamin D intake of 280 IU per day resulted in an increase in renal stone incidence. These findings are in marked contrast to the results of a recent report involving several thousand subjects consuming up to 10 000 IU vitamin D per day for 1.5 years that demonstrated no relationship with renal stones.44 In our studies, we have never observed an event of hypercalciuria associated with vitamin D intake or circulating levels of 25(OH)D.7,8,40,41 Concern remains about vitamin D toxicity as it relates to mortality.45 A recent metaanalysis by Garland et al on the subject, however, clearly demonstrated increased all-cause mortality at low circulating levels with no such relationship at higher levels.46 47 Finally, the levels of circulating 25(OH)D we report here are robust and consistent with levels achieved in various populations involving only solar exposure with no dietary supplementation.47-49
Human milk has long been known to supply inadequate amounts of vitamin D to nutritionally support the solely breastfed infant.1,3,11 Over the decades, we and others have reported the vitamin D content of human milk and thus its antirachitic activity.8,22,28,50-52 These studies have provided valuable information. Universally, the antirachitic activity of human milk is quite low, 5 to 80 IU/L, unless the lactating mother is ingesting a significant amount of vitamin D daily or getting significant total body UV exposure.7,8,18 It is the parent compound, vitamin D itself, which overwhelmingly gets transferred into human milk from the maternal circulation.8,17,22,52,53 This is an important yet almost universally misunderstood fact. Although circulating vitamin D readily gains access to human milk, circulating 25(OH)D does not, and this transfer relationship occurs over a massive range of vitamin D intakes and/or circulating levels.8,22,52,53 Thus, one cannot assume that because a lactating mother's circulating 25(OH)D level is adequate, her milk vitamin D activity will be. This is confirmed in our baseline data (Table 1) in which mothers had been breastfeeding their infants for 1 month. Maternal baseline circulating 25(OH)D levels were quite good, ~80 to 90 nmol/L; however, infant circulating 25(OH)D levels were in the very low range, ~35 nmol/L, with many exhibiting dire deficiency, <2.5 nmol/L.
This is because circulating vitamin D3 in the mothers was low, and, in many cases, undetectable (<4 nmol/L), making mother's milk a poor source of vitamin D activity. Why? Because the circulating half-life of 25(OH)D is 3 to 4 weeks, and that of vitamin D is ~12 to 24 hours, reflecting their binding affinity to vitamin D binding protein.17 This reduced affinity of vitamin D3 allows the unbound vitamin D3 to diffuse across cell membranes from blood into the milk. This concept is discussed in depth elsewhere.17 Thus, a daily dose of vitamin D is required to sustain both circulating and milk levels of vitamin D in the lactating woman.

From the standpoint of nature, low vitamin D content in breast milk is an odd circumstance. Would nature allow so little vitamin D in breast milk that the nursing infant would develop rickets from ingesting it?1,3,11 We did not believe so. Our belief was that breast milk was deficient in vitamin D due solely to lack of solar exposure and dietary recommendations for vitamin D put forth in recent decades. The current IOM recommendation for vitamin D intake during lactation is 400 to 600 IU/d, yet historical data suggest that this level of maternal supplementation does nothing to increase the vitamin D content of her milk8,17,53 and/or support adequate nutritional vitamin D status in her nursing infant.7,8,19,52 This fact is precisely why the AAP recommends every nursing infant receive a daily supplement of 400 IU vitamin D.11 However, this last recommendation treats only the infant and does not address the core problem of why breast milk has such low concentrations of vitamin D. Also, the AAP recommendation11 is rarely followed as evidenced by our baseline entry data for breastfed infants (Table 1). In our study infants, only 12% were being given supplements at baseline, which concurs with previous reports.12-15 This is reflected by the base circulating 25(OH)D levels in nonsupplemented infants of ~35 nmol/L following the first month of breastfeeding, which was less than half that of the supplemented breastfeeding infants (data not shown). This fact alone highlights how the AAP recommendation is ignored to the detriment of the infant.

The strengths of this 2-site study are that it was conducted at 2 distinct latitudes with strong racial/ethnic diversity such that the results can be applied to a wide-range of breastfeeding mothers and their infants. Additional strengths of the study are that it was conducted as an RCT to assess the comparative effectiveness of 3 treatments. Maternal and infant laboratory measures further ensured the safety of the higher dose treatment groups. Limitations of this study, however, are that of the original enrolled women,64.7% at V1 and 44.3% at V4 were still exclusively breastfeeding. That rate continued to decrease in the ensuing months, with only 28.4% at 7 months still fully breastfeeding (with the addition of complementary foods at 6 months). The rates of breastfeeding decline in the study mirrored what has been reported nationally by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.54 This attrition rate had been taken into account in the original study design, and the number of subjects available for analysis at 7 months was according to the sample size and power calculations. Another limitation is that although it was not possible to measure the vitamin D moieties in the breast milk samples in this study because of cost, we had previously demonstrated how the parent compound vitamin D (cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol) is transferred from the mother to her milk and to her recipient infant.7-8 With that being said, however, the most important factor is the amount of vitamin D in mother's milk that will support the vitamin D status of her nursing infant, which was shown to be the case in this study.

Vitamin D deficiency is almost universal among solely breastfed infants not receiving oral vitamin D supplementation. This problem is especially acute in the black population.4 This issue is depicted in Table 2 in which one can see that several minority infants exhibited dire vitamin D deficiency, < 2.5 nmol/L circulating 25(OH)D, after 1 month of being solely breastfed. The newborn human infant who is solely breastfed can only acquire vitamin D through direct dietary supplementation, direct sun exposure, and/or ingestion of breast milk. Direct supplementation is not adhered to 12,13 and direct infant sun exposure is contrary to the AAP's recommendations of no direct sun exposure during the first 6 months of life.11,55 That leaves breast milk as the only alternative.

The medical community has accepted the fact that low concentrations of vitamin D are an inherent defect in human milk that has prompted the recommendation of vitamin D supplementation for breastfeeding infants starting within the first few days after birth.1,11 The current study clearly refutes this misconception. The inherent flaw is not the design of human milk but in the dietary vitamin D recommendation with respect to the lactating mother. The current recommendation of 400 IU per day to these individuals does little to sustain blood concentrations of the parent vitamin D compound, the form that crosses from the maternal circulation into human milk; thus, minimal vitamin D is transferred into human milk. The result: dire vitamin D deficiency in the breastfeeding infant, especially darker-pigmented infants. Our study clearly demonstrates that with appropriate vitamin D intake, the lactating mother can fully transfer from her blood to her milk the vitamin D required to sustain optimal vitamin D nutrition in the nursing infant with no additional supplementation required for the infant.

This trial has been registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov (identifier NCT00412074); FDA Investigational New Drug approval 66,346.
www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2015-1669 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2015-1669 Accepted for publication Jul 27, 2015
Address all correspondence to Carol L. Wagner, MD, Medical University of South Carolina, Division of Neonatology Department of Pediatrics, 165 Ashley Ave, MSC 917,
Charleston, SC 29425. E-mail: wagnercl at musc.edu


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  14. Perrine CG, Sharma AJ, Jefferds ME, Serdula MK, Scanlon KS. Adherence to vitamin D recommendations among US infants. Pediatrics. 2010;125(4):627—632
  15. Ahrens KA, Rossen LM, Simon AE. Adherence to Vitamin D Recommendations Among US Infants Aged 0 to 11 Months, NHANES, 2009 to 2012. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2015; 0009922815589916
  16. Hollis BW, Wagner CL. Assessment of dietary vitamin D requirements during pregnancy and lactation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79(5):717—726
  17. Hollis BW, Wagner CL. Clinical review: the role of the parent compound vitamin D with respect to metabolism and function: why clinical dose intervals can affect clinical outcomes. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013;98(12):4619—4628
  18. Greer FR, Hollis BW, Cripps DJ, Tsang RC. Effects of maternal ultraviolet B irradiation on vitamin D content of human milk. J Pediatr. 1984;105(3): 431—433
  19. Ala-Houhala M. 25-Hydroxyvitamin D levels during breast-feeding with or without maternal or infantile supplementation of vitamin D. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1985;4(2):220—226
  20. Ala-Houhala M, Koskinen T, Terho A, Koivula T, Visakorpi J. Maternal compared with infant vitamin D supplementation. Arch Dis Child. 1986; 61(12):1159—1163
  21. Wagner CL, Howard CR, Hulsey TC, et al. Maternal and infant vitamin D status during lactation: is latitude important? Health. 2013;5(12):2004
  22. Greer FR, Hollis BW, Napoli JL. High concentrations of vitamin D2 in human milk associated with pharmacologic doses of vitamin D2. J Pediatr. 1984; 105(1):61 —64
  23. Wagner CL, Howard C, Hulsey TC, et al. Circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin d levels in fully breastfed infants on oral vitamin d supplementation. Int J Endocrinol. 2010;2010:235035
  24. Labbok MH, Belsey M, Coffin CJ. A call for consistency in defining breast-feeding. Am J Public Health. 1997;87(6):1060-1061
  25. Labbok M, Krasovec K. Toward consistency in breastfeeding definitions. Stud Fam Plann. 1990;21(4):226-230
  26. Coffin CJ, Labbok MH, Belsey M. Breastfeeding definitions. Contraception. 1997;55(6):323—325
  27. Hollis BW. Comparison of equilibrium and disequilibrium assay conditions for ergocalciferol, cholecalciferol and their major metabolites. J Steroid Biochem. 1984;21(1):81— 86
  28. Hollis BW. Individual quantitation of vitamin D2, vitamin D3, 25-hydroxyvitamin D2 and 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 in human milk. Anal Biochem. 1983;131:211-219
  29. Hollis BW, Pittard WB III. Evaluation of the total fetomaternal vitamin D relationships at term: evidence for racial differences. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1984;59(4):652—657
  30. Hollis BW, Kamerud JQ, Selvaag SR, Lorenz JD, Napoli JL. Determination of vitamin D status by radioimmunoassay with an 125I-labeled tracer. Clin Chem. 1993;39(3):529—533
  31. Laboratories MC. Laboratory Reference Data. Rochester, MN: Mayo Clinic; 2004
  32. Hollis BW, Wagner CL. Normal serum vitamin D levels. N Engl J Med. 2005;352: 515—516
  33. Heaney RP, Davies KM, Chen TC, Holick MF, Barger-Lux MJ. Human serum 25-hydroxycholecalciferol response to extended oral dosing with cholecalciferol. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 77(1):204—210
  34. Vieth R. Vitamin D supplementation, 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations, and safety. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69(5): 842—856
  35. Vieth R, Chan PC, MacFarlane GD. Efficacy and safety of vitamin D3 intake exceeding the lowest observed adverse effect level. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;73(2):288—294
  36. Hollis BW. Circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels indicative of vitamin D sufficiency: implications for establishing a new effective dietary intake recommendation for vitamin D. J Nutr. 2005;135(2):317—322
  37. Vieth R, Ladak Y, Walfish P. Age-related changes in the 25-hydroxyvitamin D versus parathyroid hormone relationship suggest a different reason why older adults require more vitamin D. J Clin Endocrinal Metab. 2003;88(1): 185—191
  38. Appelgren KE, Nietert PJ, Hulsey TC, Hollis BW, Wagner CL. Analyzing adherence to prenatal supplement: does pill count measure up? Int J Endocrinol. 2010;2010: 631971
  39. Food and Nutrition Board. Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1997
  40. Hollis BW, Johnson D, Hulsey TC, Ebeling M, Wagner CL. Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy: double-blind, randomized clinical trial of safety and effectiveness. J Bone Miner Res. 2011;26(10):2341—2357
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Editorial: Maternal Vitamin D Supplementation for Breastfeeding Infants: Will it Work?

Pediatrics; online September 28, 2015; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2015-2312
Lydia Furman, MD
 Download the PDF from VitaminDWiki
Infants fortunate enough to be exclusively breastfeeding are at risk for insufficient vitamin D intake, and if vitamin D deficient, are at risk for rickets. Despite an unequivocal recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics to provide 400 IU of oral vitamin D daily beginning in the first days postpartum, national studies conducted both before and after publication of these recommendations estimate that only 1 in 5 breastfed US infants achieves this goal.1-3 Both provider and parent compliance play a role when recommendations are not followed.4-5
To address this issue, an elegant prospective randomized double-blind trial by Hollis and colleagues6 explores an option that has been "food for thought” and study for several years: supplementation of maternal vitamin D as a substitute for infant supplementation. Their trial carefully addressed potentially confounding variables, including latitude, season, maternal skin pigmentation, BMI, and diet. The study was challenged by attrition because of discontinued exclusive breastfeeding, with just 148 of the 389 who were randomized (38%) able to complete the trial, raising another important public health issue. But when the curtain falls, we learn that 6400 IU of daily maternal vitamin D3 for 6 months successfully supports maternal vitamin D status, and the authors' previous work documents that this produces sufficient vitamin D levels for breastfeeding infants.6-7
The results are valuable, but questions remain. Who will prescribe this medication for mothers, and who will pay for it? And does this strategy shift rather than resolve the compliance burden of vitamin D supplementation?
American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines endorse care by pediatricians through age 26 years, but obviously many mothers are older than this. Although practicable for family practice and combined internal medicine and pediatrics physicians, not all internists or obstetricians will wish to collaborate and treat the mother per this recommendation. Although vitamin D can be purchased over the counter, advising mothers on their medications and supplements is not clearly a wise professional strategy.(VitaminDWiki wonders why) The study arm providing 2400 IU of vitamin D was discontinued by the Data Safety Monitoring Committee because receipt of this dose "...showed a significant, independent association with infant deficiency. ” at visit 4, so uncertain or partial dosing is risky.6 And vitamin D is not free. Lower socioeconomic status and eligibility for WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) are risk factors for breastfeeding noninitiation and discontinuation: in an ugly turn of events, could recommending maternal supplementation create another (perceived) barrier to breastfeeding in this subpopulation?8 Medication compliance is complex and not described by demographic factors alone, but adults with lower health literacy taking long-term medications that do not make them "feel better” (read maternal vitamin D supplementation) are at meaningful risk for therapeutic noncompliance.9

Maternal supplementation has the added potential benefit of improving maternal health, and may be preferable and economically acceptable for many families. This approach, however, should inspire us to brainstorm new strategies for infant supplementation, especially tactics that level the playing field and overcome health disparities associated with breastfeeding. Interestingly, our colleagues to the north have reports of success, with 74% to 80% of parents reporting giving vitamin D supplements, so there is good reason to persevere.10 11
Additional potential strategies include beginning infant vitamin D3 in the newborn nursery, partnered with other effective public health programs in the newborn order set, such as hepatitis B vaccination, newborn screening by blood spot, and hearing testing. Certainly it is counterintuitive to insist that infants receiving the "perfect food” must take a dietary supplement, an issue Hollis and colleagues6 address at length. But in the first days of life, even infants receiving formula alone do not consume sufficient volumes to meet their vitamin D goals; the safety of early universal prescribing, with a brief educational component, is difficult to dispute.
Strategies to overcome financial barriers are needed: Medicaid health maintenance organizations do not issue infant insurance cards for several weeks or the plan may request "prior authorization,” and the cost of multivitamin drops may tip the budget for low- or middle-income families. Free medication alone, however, is not a panacea: a free prescription program in Montreal failed to improve odds of obtaining vitamin D for the infant, with reduced prescription uptake and an increased prevalence of rickets cases over the 4-year study period.12 WIC serves >50% of infants in the United States, and WIC dieticians are currently an untapped resource for educating, and supporting vitamin D supplementation.
Other possible stratagems include public health messaging, addition of infant vitamin D to ambulatory electronic medical record order sets, and augmented trainee education. Finally, we need a way to track rates of vitamin D deficiency rickets, rather than just relying on case reports, and a National Registry could facilitate this.13-14 Excellent studies, like the work of Hollis et al,6 generate as many questions as answers, and ultimately energize us to tackle tough clinical questions.

  1. Wagner CL, Greer FR; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2008;122(5): 1142-1152
  2. Ahrens KA, Rossen LM, Simon AE. Adherence to Vitamin D Recommendations Among US Infants Aged 0 to 11 Months, NHANES, 2009 to 2012 [published online ahead of print June 7, 2015]. Clin Pediatr (Phila). doi:10.1 177/0009922815589916
  3. Perrine CG, Sharma AJ, Jefferds ME, Serdula MK, Scanlon KS. Adherence to vitamin D recommendations among US infants. Pediatrics. 2010;125(4):627-632
  4. Fegan S, Bassett E, Peng Y, Steel O'Connor K. Adherence to complementary feeding recommendations for infants and implications for public health. Public Health Nutr. 2015;20:1-12
  5. Taylor JA, Geyer LJ, Feldman KW. Use of supplemental vitamin d among infants breastfed for prolonged periods. Pediatrics. 2010;125(1):105-111
  6. Hollis BW, Wagner CL, Howard CR, et al. Maternal versus infant vitamin D supplementation during lactation: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2015;136(4):625—634
  7. Wagner CL, Hulsey TC, Fanning D, Ebeling M, Hollis BW. High-dose vitamin D3 supplementation in a cohort of breastfeeding mothers and their infants: a 6-month follow-up pilot study. Breastfeed Med. 2006;1(2): 59-70
  8. Progress in Increasing Breastfeeding and Reducing Racial/Ethnic Differences— United States. 2000-2008 Births. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013;62(05):77—80.
    Available at: www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6205a1.htm. Accessed June 16, 2015
  9. Jin J, Sklar GE, Min Sen Oh V, Chuen Li S. Factors affecting therapeutic compliance: a review from the patient's perspective. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2008;4(1):269—286
  10. Crocker B, Green TJ, Barr SI, et al. Very high vitamin D supplementation rates among infants aged 2 months in Vancouver and Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. BMC Public Health. 2011;11:905
  11. Gallo S, Jean-Philippe S, Rodd C, Weiler HA. Vitamin D supplementation of Canadian infants: practices of Montreal mothers. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2010; 35(3):303-309
  12. Millette M, Sharma A, Weiler H, Sheehy 0, Berard A, Rodd C. Programme to provide Quebec infants with free vitamin D supplements failed to encourage participation or adherence. Acta Paediatr. 2014;103(10):e444—e449
  13. Weisberg P, Scanlon KS, Li R, Cogswell ME. Nutritional rickets among children in the United States: review of cases reported between 1986 and 2003. Am J Ciin Nutr. 2004;80(suppl 6):1697S—1705S
  14. Singleton R, Lescher R, Gessner BD, et al. Rickets and vitamin D deficiency in Alaska native children. J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2015;28(7-8): 815-823
Breastfeeding mother getting 6400 IU of Vitamin D is similar to infant getting 400 IU – RCT Sept 2015        
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