Becoming a parent can be one of the most joyous and challenging experiences of your life.
One of the first lessons every new parent learns is how to make sure your baby is well fed and adequately nourished throughout each stage of their life.
Vitamin C is an important nutrient that’s essential for optimal health across the life cycle.
Many new parents wonder if their infants are getting enough vitamin C and whether a supplement is ever necessary.
This article reviews everything you need to know about vitamin C for babies, including what it is, how much is needed, and how to make sure your baby is getting enough every day.
What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient that plays a critical role in a variety of your baby’s most vital physical functions.
It’s essential for maintaining a healthy immune system, enhancing iron absorption, and producing collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body (1).
Vitamin C is unique to many other nutrients because it also functions as an antioxidant. Antioxidants help protect cells from free radical damage (2).
Free radicals are highly volatile, cell-damaging chemicals that are a byproduct of normal human metabolism. Antioxidants like vitamin C can bind to free radicals, making them unable to harm surrounding tissues (2).
Vitamin C is considered an essential nutrient, which means your baby’s body can’t produce it by itself. Therefore, it must be obtained from the foods they consume each day.
This nutrient can be found in breastmilk, infant formula, and many types of fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin C requirements for infants
Though essential throughout every stage of life, infants need less vitamin C than adults.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that babies receive the following amount of vitamin C each day (3):
- 0–6 months of age: 40 milligrams (mg)
- 6–12 months: 50 mg
Women who are breastfeeding have increased vitamin C requirements because they’re supplying the baby with vitamin C through their breastmilk.
If you’re breastfeeding, aim to consume 120 mg of vitamin C per day. This is about 60% more than the amount required for women who aren’t breastfeeding (3).
Infant formulas also contain vitamin C. Thus, if your baby is formula fed, they’ll be able to meet their vitamin C needs.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that supports immunity and collagen production. It also functions as an antioxidant. Babies require 40–50 mg of vitamin C per day, depending on their age.
Most babies shouldn’t take vitamin C supplements
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), infant formula, breastmilk, and food should be the only sources of vitamin C your baby consumes (3).
Supplementing with vitamin C is unnecessary for most healthy babies and could increase their risk of developing symptoms associated with vitamin C toxicity.
Possible side effects associated with overconsumption of vitamin C include kidney stones, nausea, and diarrhea (3).
The U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) only advises that vitamins and mineral supplements be given to infants 6 months of age or older (4).
Supplementing at 6 months is recommended for infants who aren’t breastfeeding and consume less than 16 ounces (500 mL) of formula per day (4).
If taking a supplement is deemed necessary, the dosage should be determined by your baby’s healthcare provider (4).
When supplementing may be appropriate
If you suspect that your baby isn’t getting enough vitamin C, taking a supplement may be necessary.
Vitamin C deficiencies are rare in developed countries, but babies with neurodevelopmental disorders, digestive dysfunction, or cancer may be at an increased risk of developing them (5).
Severe vitamin C deficiency is the root cause of a serious medical condition known as scurvy.
Symptoms include bleeding gums, bruising, fatigue, loss of appetite, and irritability. If scurvy is left untreated, it can be fatal (1, 5).
You should never attempt to diagnose your baby with a vitamin deficiency on your own.
Be sure to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before adding any supplements to your baby’s diet. They can determine the safest, most appropriate dosage.
Vitamin C supplements are generally not recommended for babies. In rare instances, supplements may be required, but dosage should be determined by a qualified healthcare provider.
Focus on including whole foods that contain vitamin C
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends beginning to introduce solid foods when your baby is about 6 months old (6).
This is the perfect time to start offering foods that are rich in vitamin C to help your baby continue meeting their nutrient needs as they grow.
At 6 months of age, most babies can meet their daily vitamin C requirements from a combination of food and formula or breastmilk (3).
Here are some examples of baby-friendly foods that are high in vitamin C (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12):
- Red bell pepper, 1/4 cup (23 grams): 58% of the daily vitamin C recommendation for babies
- Strawberries, 1/4 cup (41 grams): 48% of the daily vitamin C recommendation for babies
- Kiwi, 1/4 cup (44 grams): 82% of the daily vitamin C recommendation for babies
- Tangerines, 1/4 cup (49 grams): 26% of the daily vitamin C recommendation for babies
- Cooked broccoli, 1/4 cup (24 grams): 31% of the daily vitamin C recommendation for babies
- Papaya, 1/4 cup (57 grams): 70% of the daily vitamin C recommendation for babies
Remember that every baby is different and not all of them will be particularly open to trying new foods right away. Be patient with them as they explore all the new flavors and textures that solid foods provide.
In the meantime, you can rest assured that your baby will get plenty of vitamin C from their formula or breastmilk.
At 6 months, you can begin introducing foods rich in vitamin C to your baby’s diet. Strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, and tangerines are all excellent baby-friendly options.
The bottom line
One of the most important parts of caring for a new baby is ensuring they’re provided with adequate nutrition.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in immunity, collagen production, and protection from free radical damage.
Breastmilk, infant formula, and whole foods, such as bell pepper, strawberries, and papaya, are the best sources of vitamin C for your baby.
Vitamin C supplements aren’t appropriate for infants unless recommended by a healthcare provider.
If you’re concerned that your baby isn’t getting enough vitamin C, talk to your medical provider before adding any supplements to their routine.