Should I give my child a multivitamin?

Q: Should I give my child a multivitamin?

A: Giving your child a multivitamin seems like a safe bet, particularly if you have a picky eater --  sort of like an insurance policy. But in truth most babies and toddlers don't need them. Vitamins won't protect your child from common childhood illnesses or make him grow faster or taller. In fact, so many foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals these days -- for instance, bread contains folate and iron, and orange juice has calcium -- that even if your child isn't the best eater, once he's eating table food, chances are he is getting plenty of vitamins.
Still, there are a few circumstances in which your doctor may prescribe a multivitamin. A vitamin drop or extra iron may be recommended for preemies, low birth weight babies, and babies with certain metabolic disorders. Some doctors also routinely prescribe multivitamin drops for breastfed babies because breast milk lacks sufficient vitamin D and, after 6 months, may not provide enough iron. However, if a baby is healthy and Mom is well nourished and taking a multivitamin herself, this is not needed. Moreover, at 6 months most babies start eating solids that provide iron. Kids typically hate the strong metallic taste of vitamin drops, so it's just as well. Of course, if giving your child a daily multivitamin makes you feel better, go right ahead; generally, they're not harmful. --Gina Bevinetto Feld

Originally published in American Baby magazine, October 2007. Updated 2009.