Do children need vitamin supplements?

PE blogDuring my residency days I was under the impression that the head of my department was a tyrant (I now believe that residents are supposed to feel that way) but as the years go by there are so many instances when I remember him with gratitude. My carelessness at certain tasks would not escape his observant gaze….from misspelling I’s and e’s in prescriptions to answers I gave from hearsay without actually reading my textbook. One busy day in the OPD he told me that I had prescribed multivitamins to twelve children and asked me for the reason.” Nothing major sir,” I said spiritlessly (by then I had learnt that honesty was my only defence) “their mothers were not happy with their appetite and nothing was really wrong with the children…”. “Dr Krishna,” he said sincerely, “you should know that you are accountable for everything you do…how many prescriptions would you actually have written if the parents concerned could not afford to buy the medicine?” I think the answer was two. Since then I have always thought twice before prescribing anything.

Vitamins are undoubtedly essential for synchronised body functioning (for enzymes to digest food, for blood to clot, for the strengthening of bones and cartilage, for nerves to transmit impulses, for hormones to be secreted, for wounds to heal, for immunity and for the eyes to see) and not just for growth. Since they cannot be manufactured in sufficient amounts by the body, and must be taken in from the environment. With the exception of vitamin D, which is manufactured by the body in response to sunlight exposure (wherein research says that 15 minutes a week of such exposure is all that is needed), all the others are naturally supplemented by a balanced diet. Vitamins occurring in their natural forms are the easiest for the body to use, and accompanied by important related compounds enabling their absorption and assimilation by the body. So are we over prescribing and overrating commercial nutritional supplements? Well, the answer is a tricky one.

Also Read: Do Teen Daughters Need Supplements?

Let me first list out the conditions when vitamin supplementation is mandatory.

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are called fat-soluble vitamins and are stored in the fatty tissues of the body and in the liver. They wait around in your body and when it’s time for them to be used, special carrier proteins take them to where they’re needed. So overloading on them can have toxic effects on the body. Water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C and the B complex as they are usually called) don’t get stored as much and travel through the bloodstream. Whatever is in excess is flushed out by the kidneys. So a child with a liver disease, a kidney disorder or a malabsorption syndrome (a condition where dietary nutrients do not enter the bloodstream) will need vitamins in doses above the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance, or the amount needed every day) for prolonged periods.

Babies get most of their nutrition a few weeks before birth and therefore those born preterm have insufficient reserves and they require vitamins and minerals to be supplemented.

Sometimes a long course of medication like medicines given for fits, prolonged fevers like typhoid, heart problems etc. require vitamin supplements in order to break down the drug and replace the reserves that get exhausted.

Breastfed babies require no vitamin supplements unless the mother is deficient. We prescribe vitamins usually after solids are introduced and formula is discontinued. Many paediatricians make an exception to this and suggest Vitamin D supplements throughout the first year. This is because research shows a prevalence of vitamin D deficiency of 50-90 % in our country (attributed to low dietary calcium, skin colour and limited outdoor activity).It is also because vitamin D is now quoted as a preventative miracle vitamin for everything from cancer and diabetes to heart disease and multiple sclerosis.

Also Read: Should we Worry about Vitamin D? 

I believe that several aspects of our lifestyle do not contribute to good nutrition. The tiny portions of fruit and veggies our children cut a deal to eat are not totally fresh and hygienic. Busy schedules have made processed snacks and energy drinks obligatory. Carbonated drinks leach vitamins and minerals from the body. A diet that includes milk and dairy products like cheese and yogurt, plenty of fresh fruits and leafy, green vegetables, protein like chicken, fish, meat, and eggs and whole grains oats and brown rice rules out vitamin deficiency (except for vitamin D).

For children who aren’t eating regular, well-balanced meals ( eating a lot of fast foods, convenience foods, and processed foods),finicky eaters, and those who play physically demanding sports, giving vitamins is akin to providing a safety blanket to avoid guilt. Vitamins cannot increase appetite if you are not deficient in them. Please look to activity levels, and emotional and hormonal imbalances when you notice a lack of appetite instead of self-prescribing your child vitamins.

Kids on a strict vegetarian diet need an iron supplement and those on dairy-free diet may need a calcium supplement and not just vitamins.

So coming back to the question, I will say that healthy kids do need vitamin supplements. Not always, but sometimes and for some time.

Re-published with permission from the blog of ParentEdge, a bi-monthly parenting magazine that aims to expose parents to global trends in learning and partner with them in the intellectual enrichment of their children. This blog has been written by Dr. Krishna Mahathi, she holds diplomas in Pediatrics and in the management of allergies and asthma. Years of working and interacting with children and parents have given her insight into developmental disabilities. She wishes that there was more awareness and acceptance of the issues that differently-abled children face and hopes that through this blog, she can enable thse children and their families to make sensible and informed choices.

Christmas Vacation Recipes for the whole family


A brilliant way to make the most of Christmas vacations is to engage your children in making homemade gifts for relatives and friends. Homemade gifts are a message that the receiver is important enough for you to spend time thinking of a gift idea and making it yourself. We’ve put together a few easy to make recipes that will be fun and make an ideal homemade gift.

Nothing gets pre-schoolers going like a mashable play-doughy type of material to squish between their fingers. Now imagine if you could get them to use something like that to make ginger bread dough that is edible! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Let’s begin! [Read more…]

Christmas Celebrations: A fresh take on the tradition of Giving


Holidays are a joyous and memorable occasion that we share with our friends and family. We keep the tradition of giving by exchanging gifts and spending quality time together.

However, for many families, the struggle for survival does not change with the arrival of festivities. Sharing or exchanging gifts is not a possibility. We could acknowledge the blessings we have by giving back to people from disadvantaged background, at the same time keeping the spirit of giving alive. [Read more…]

Practising spirituality with children, the Play-Way method

We all have been given a mission to be spiritual companions to our children, grandchildren, and young friends. There are many blessings to be shared across the generations. We also can do more to respect and cherish children’s spirituality. How do we express it? Through creativity, sharing experiences, narrating stories, questions and much more. [Read more…]

Safeguarding your children against dangers on the playground

In our bid to get our children more outdoor play, we must also safeguard them against seemingly harmless outdoors. This article is does not intend to prevent you from sending your child outdoors to play, but to ensure that when you do so, proper safety precautions are undertaken to everybody has a good time.

[Read more…]

3 Reasons why it is important for your child to play in Mud

playing with mud
What is your child’s typical day like? I bet it includes loads of activities that involve art, craft,sports and study. Have you ever considered mud? I find children, even the very young ones, are always fascinated by mud. But our current lifestyle can elicit responses like, “Eww, not the mud, honey. It’s dirty” or “There are germs in there, you don’t want them on your hands!” [Read more…]

What is causing your child’s cough?

What is causing your child’s cough?Cough and cold are the most common afflictions of children both young and old. Preschoolers suffer from coughs 3-8 times a year and older children up to 4 times. But there is a lot of confusion surrounding coughs and why they are caused. Here’s an article hoping to clear away some of those misconceptions and an easier (read less worrying) recovery.

Coughs are usually caused by viruses. It is what we generally refer to as a viral infection. Since viruses are microorganisms that are neither alive nor dead (seriously!), it is impossible to eradicate them. Antibiotics are of no use on them. So basically, the infection has to run its course. It may last anywhere from 5 days to 12 days. A typical infection throws up symptoms like a head cold, runny or stuffed nose, sore throat, cough and sometimes a fever as well. The paediatrician may prescribe medicine to allay the symptoms of the viral infection (cold, cough, etc), but there is no cure for the infection itself.

However, there are cases when cough can be caused by allergies. If your child is allergic to dust mites, pollen, animal dander, etc, the cough may present itself whenever there is contact with the allergen. The only recourse is to administer antihistamines prescribed by your child’s paediatrician.

In rare cases, Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs can cause a persistent cough. It is also accompanied by difficulty breathing, a cold, fever body aches and chills. If you suspect pneumonia, it is a good idea to take your child to the paediatrician.

Bronchitis is another rare cause of a persistent and hacking cough several weeks after a viral infection. Bronchitis is an infection of the tubes carrying air to the lungs. This too can be either viral or bacterial. If it is bacterial, antibiotics will work. The paediatrician should be able to tell you whether the infection is viral or bacterial.

When to call a doctor, when a child has cough:

If your child is less than 3 month old
If breathing is laboured
Is coughing mucus that is streaked with blood
Is younger than 6 months and has a fever of 101 or above
Is over 6 months and has a fever of 103 and above
Is coughing after choking on something
Coughing causes vomiting

In any case, avoid administering any medication till you have prior permission from the doctor. Over the counter cough medicines do more harm than good. Mixing 2 or more types of cough medicines can cause a fatal combination in some cases.
Till the doctor is able to give you a definite course of action, try some simple home remedies for relief. Honey works wonders on cough. Try it!


Early warning signs of a learning disability

Early Warning SignsCan I tell if my child has learning disability?

Children till the age of 5 learn skills at different rates. If a child is adept at speaking, he may be slower to comprehend numbers. Similarly, a child who is adept at physical manoeuvres and play may learn the alphabet later than others. This varying rate of learning new skills can throw parents off the correct way to diagnose if there is a problem.

Learning disability falls into 3 wide categories:

Speech and language problems

Reading writing and math problems

Coordination, motor skills and memory problems

However, sometimes the disability is quite apparent such as dyslexia (reading impairment) or dyscalculia (math solving impairment).

What exactly goes wrong in a child with learning disability?

A child with learning disability who has a normal IQ, like any regular child, cant process accurately information that gets passed on from the eyes and ears to the brain. The child knows what he/she wants to accomplish, but can

The Myth of a Super Mom!

Super Mom

When you first discovered your baby is going to arrive, you quickly calculated the maternity leave available to you and decided you will be back to work after the stipulated 6 weeks. But by the end of those amazing and crazily hectic 6 weeks, you decided to stretch it just a little. And then came a time when your family adjusted to one income while you turned into a full time mom. While this may not have played out exactly the same way for everyone, there comes a time in every mom’s life when you break away from your motherly chores and wake up to the person that is YOU! You, who did more than set up play-dates, wipe snotty noses and did truck loads of laundry everyday.  And today, you single handedly tackle tantrums, discipline, school projects, household chores, groceries and everything that life throws at you.

You are something of a supermom! I’m sure you get that a lot.

Sometimes I wonder how my own mother did it. Bringing up two children, working from home and yet be able to strike that precarious work-home balance. So one day I decided to know a little more about my mother. The kind of person she was before my brother and I were born, her ambitions, her daily struggles with two children and literally no additional support. And boy did I come back with some pearls of wisdom! So here’s a little something for all you super-moms out there for whom every single day brings in different set of challenges that never are the same!

You can’t have it all: My mother constantly had to balance her work and home so that neither suffered. Sometimes she was successful, sometimes she wasn’t. But in managing all of this, her own identity and desires suffered. She was a mom, a sister, a wife and an employee too. Being a super mom didn’t leave her with much to do for herself. The entire idea of super mom takes up all the energy and time you have. It is an urban legend much like the super man. That you are a mom, who is also working happens just by the way. It is time the concept of “super dads” take flight.

Seek joy outside family: Work provides empowerment to women that can be measured. Work also puts you in touch with people outside of your cocoon, giving you a chance to be yourself. So embrace this opportunity. Develop hobbies with like minded people. Develop your separate cocoon where there are no motherly strings holding you back. Travel, cycle, and learn the guitar. Whatever you do, try to seek pleasure only for yourself.

Ditch the guilt: Several times when my mother was not around for the important landmarks in my life, I held a grudge against her. As I grew up, I realised it was not really important for her to have been there. In an Indian household, domesticity is mainly a woman’s responsibility. So when you are not around all the time it is easy to fall into the guilt trap. But Don’t! You chose to have a life beyond your own family and those who respect you will love this about you.

Be your own person. You may not be successful a 100% of the times, but you will find a new meaning to your life that goes much beyond being just a Super Mom.

Start Your Child’s Education Early


Traditionally children started school at 3.5 years. But with ever increasing academic demands and the inevitable competitive circus they get thrown into, experts are advising that may be it is time to catch them young.  As early as 1.5 years!

There are two schools of thought and both deserve to be shared with our reader. All experts agree that education need not necessarily begin with schooling. Education for a baby begins in the womb. It starts with learning to recognize its own mother’s voice, something that can’t be taught in school. So it is important to realise that when we refer to education, we don’t mean only schooling (home schooled or otherwise)

Too much too soon? Letting children learn through play

When children play, they learn through experience and observation. They learn about important emotions like happiness, sadness, jealousy, frustration, joy and fear. Play also mimics important life situations where children develop their conflict resolution skills, arbitrations, compromise, building authority, concept of sharing and letting go.

By allowing children to learn these through play, you would be taking the most natural course of action. This will not give you immediate results, but you will see your little one master this art gradually. It is important to expose your child to situations where he gets ample opportunity to play and interact with people and children outside the home.

These interactions will form important brain patterns where the child stores this information until a similar situation arises where he/she has to use it again. Thus, it is vital to the child that he/she gets as many experiences as possible. The sponge like brain of a child absorbs everything around him/her till the age of five.

Starting school early

The definition of early is yet undefined. But children, as young as 1.5 years old are known to start school. This is especially true of children who have both parents working. With no one to take care of the child at home, a school or a day care seems to be the perfect answer.

In scenarios where the child cannot be exposed to different forms of play, it is perhaps advisable to start school early.  A child will thrive when he/she gets ample opportunity to play and interact with more people. Like we said, the importance of play cannot be more stressed.

The only problem arises when school starts interfering with play time and demands that the child sits down and learns activities that are not age appropriate. This is the crucial difference between education and compulsory schooling. Play lets a child learn at his/her own pace whereas education can make demands upon the child that may not be age appropriate.

Since every child learns differently, it is important to let the child choose his play and the way he learns it. This way he/she is able to complete the whole process of play-fail-succeed-learn in his brain pattern. Any intervention, may allay short term grief, but will not help the child in learning the whole process in the long run, more importantly, on his/her own.