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Sunshine and vitamin D

sun; sunshine; exposure; vitamin; D; rickets; cancer; nappy; rash; ;

Too much sunshine can cause skin damage and skin cancers, but not enough can cause weak bones and muscles. We need Vitamin D, which is made when sunlight gets on skin, to make them strong. When vitamin D levels are very low babies or children may get rickets.


Some young babies do not have enough Vitamin D if their mothers do not get enough sunshine on their skin during pregnancy or when they breastfeed their babies. The mothers may cover most of their skin with clothing and veils, or they may rarely go outside. If the mothers have dark skin this is more likely to be a problem. They should have their vitamin D levels checked by a blood test during pregnancy.

These babies and their mothers may need to have extra vitamin D from vitamin drops for babies (such as Pentavite) or tablets for the mother. Babies who are fed baby formula (bottle fed babies) will get vitamin D from the milk, but breastfeeding is still best for babies. The vitamin drops will give the babies enough vitamin D.

Elderly people in nursing homes may also get very little sunshine on their skin. They are at a high risk of falls and broken bones, especially of the hip.

Some babies and young children get rickets if they have a very strict vegetarian diet and no exposure to the sun.


Signs of rickets include:

  • painful bones, muscle weakness, cramps and spasms
  • severe bow legs or knock knees
  • deformed chest and/or spine
  • bones that break easily
  • slow growth
  • delay in standing or walking.

What the Cancer Council says

Australia's high ultraviolet radiation levels mean that even when babies are outdoors for very short periods before 10 am and after 4 pm with small amounts of skin exposed, they are likely to receive enough ultraviolet radiation exposure to maintain healthy vitamin D levels even with the use of sun protection. (2005)

Small amounts of sunshine are enough for older children too. Children can get enough sunshine before 10am and after 4pm when their hands and face are the only parts of the body exposed. It is rare for children in Australia to get less exposure to the sun than this. (2007)


Women's and Children's Health Network (South Australia) 'Vitamin D in pregnancy' 

Better Health Channel (Victoria) 'Rickets' 

The Woman's (Victoria) 'Vitamin d and pregnancy' 

Cancer Council Australia
'Vitamin D'

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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