A baby on a diversified diet who eats a variety of foods should be able to absorb all the nutrients he or she needs for development. In some cases this is not possible and it becomes necessary to give the child supplements that add specific nutrients.

What are dietary supplements for infants?

Infant supplements are food products that are used to provide the baby with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and/or essential fatty acids. Some are designed to make up for deficiencies in the newborn’s diet while others are created specifically to meet the nutritional needs of breastfed infants. These are baby-specific products, so they should not be treated in the same way as ordinary dietary supplements.

In what cases are supplements for children necessary?

The choice to administer supplements, especially in the case of young children, must always be made after medical consultation. Online information, including that in this article, is always general in nature and does not reflect the complexity of each individual case.

That being said, there are some cases in which supplementation should be considered:

  • Exclusively breastfed children: according to WHO, breast milk is the ideal food for a baby and is always preferable to other forms of nutrition.
    Despite this, it is often insufficient to provide all the vitamin D the infant needs (which, however, is not lacking in infants who are fed formulated milk with added vitamin D)
  • Premature infants: the last three months before birth are important to provide the fetus with a large number of nutrients, so babies born early are more prone to lack of vitamins and minerals that must therefore be supplemented otherwise
  • Children on restricted diets: some refuse to eat particular foods (such as vegetables) while other times pediatricians themselves suggest a restricted diet because of particular allergies. Supplements can be used to prevent possible nutritional deficiencies but should not be treated as a substitute for a healthy diet
  • Children with health problems: some medications interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the body. In such cases, the doctor following the infant should prescribe the necessary vitamins. In addition, some diseases, such as anemia and rickets, are directly related to nutrient deficiency (iron for anemia, vitamin D for rickets).

The risks of baby supplements

One of the most common risks in using supplements is that the child ends up taking too many vitamins. We may not realize it, but children’s foods are often multivitamins themselves. One example is breakfast cereals, fortified to be rich in minerals and nutrients. A child who eats these products and uses supplements runs the risk of excessive intake of vitamins, to the point where they become toxic and interfere with metabolism.

Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, as is done for foods and medicines. This different treatment has sometimes led to the mislabeling of some supplements, which contained ingredients in higher or lower amounts than indicated.

Infant supplements: the market situation

Despite the fact that these are two different products, there are strong growth forecasts for the infant supplement market, on par with adult dietary supplements. According to Data Bridge Market Research, by 2029 the market will have a global value of $127.83 billion (CAGR of 14.50 percent) despite the generic decline in the birth rate we are seeing globally.

Key drivers of market growth include:

  • Increased focus on health, hygiene and prevention, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • The shrinking of the family unit allowing parents to focus their attention on a reduced number of children
  • The general consensus toward the promotion of breastfeeding and the consequent need for vitamin D supplementation
  • The increased use of e-commerce, which has greatly expanded the consumer base
  • The gradual spread of alternative diets, such as vegan or pescetarian diets, which need some nutrient supplementation.

Companies operating in the market know, however, that these opportunities also have their downside. The laxer regulation of supplements, as opposed to foods and medicines, is reflected in a level of skepticism toward the efficacy of these products that persists even when they are released by major brands. 

In addition, the increased focus toward the health of their children is reflected in more informed choices by parents and a high level of attention to quality and hygiene standards.