Why does Vitamin A Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

JanelMS, RD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 4 minutes

What to know about meeting your and your child’s vitamin A needs

  • Learn why vitamin A is important for your health

  • How much vitamin A is needed by age

  • Which foods are good sources of Vitamin A

What does vitamin A do?

Vitamin A is important for vision, skin, reproduction, and immunity.1 Pregnant and lactating women need extra vitamin A for their baby’s growth and development.

Two forms of vitamin A are available in the diet:

Preformed vitamin A is found in foods from animal sources including dairy products, fish, poultry, and meat.1

Provitamin A is found in plant products. Beta-carotene is the most common, and most important, type of Provitamin A.1 You can find this type of phytonutrient (which also doubles as the color of the produce) in yellow, orange, red and dark green fruits and vegetables.2 Provitamin A can be made into vitamin A by the body.

How much vitamin A is needed?

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) lists vitamin A in micrograms (mcg) of Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE).1,3

*Note that the numbers for infants are Adequate Intakes (AIs), since there is not enough data to establish an RDA. The AIs provide guidance to help get a level of Vitamin A that is nutritionally adequate.1

Here are RDAs for vitamin A:

  • Infants* 0-6 months: 400 mcg RAE

  • Infants* 7-12 months: 500 mcg RAE

  • Children 1-3 years: 300 mcg RAE

  • Children 4-8 years: 400 mcg RAE

  • Children 9-13 years: 600 mcg RAE

  • Adolescent boys 14 – 18 years: 900 mcg RAE

  • Adolescent girls 14 – 18 years: 700 mcg RAE

  • Adult males 19+ years: 900 mcg RAE

  • Adult females 19+ years: 700 mcg RAE

  • Pregnant teens 14 – 18 years: 750 mcg RAE

  • Pregnant women 19+ years: 770 mcg RAE

  • Breastfeeding teens 14 – 18 years: 1200 mcg RAE

  • Breastfeeding women 19+ years: 1300 mcg RAE1

Food sources of vitamin A

Infant formula produced in the United States must contain a specific amount of vitamin A.4 This nutrient is also abundant in breastmilk; highest in colostrum and then slowly reducing to a stable amount later in lactation.5,6

Common food sources of Vitamin A include red, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruit; dairy with added vitamin A and D; green leafy vegetables; as well as fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin A in your, your baby, and your toddler’s diet

Vitamin A: Pregnancy and breastfeeding diet

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, vitamin A requirements increase to help meet both your and your baby’s needs.5

In fact, it is suggested that the amount of vitamin A in breastmilk may be dependent upon how much is in the mother’s diet.6 For this reason it may be important to ensure you’re eating vitamin A-rich foods throughout the week.

Vitamin A: Baby, toddler, and parent diet

Once your little one is ready to eat solids, include foods that are abundant in vitamin A. Lots of colorful fruits and vegetables will help you accomplish this for both you and your child. Know that even if your little one doesn’t seem to like a certain food, keep offering it often. It may take up to 10 or more tastes before your child begins to accept a new or disliked food.7

Vitamin A is fat soluble, meaning that it is best absorbed along with some fat to help carry it into the body.5 When offering foods that are higher in vitamin A, combine them with a source of fat to help them be absorbed. For example, roast sweet potato with coconut oil or butter, sauté spinach in olive oil, or toss bell pepper into a salad and drizzle with an oil-based dressing.

When offering vitamin A-fortified dairy, choose low fat rather than fat free, to help with vitamin A absorption. No cow’s milk should be offered to babies under the age of 1 year, then between 1 and 2 years whole milk is recommended.8 After that, low fat dairy is usually suggested.8

The good news is that your baby can have yogurt and cheese, even though cow’s milk is not recommended before age 1. Choose yogurts that have no added sugar and are made with whole milk.8 For toddlers, continue to offer yogurt without added sugar. Add mashed or chopped soft fruit for natural sweetness.

Should you or your little one be lactose intolerance or have a cow’s milk allergy, many plant-based milks are also fortified with vitamin A.

Each week, choose different fruits and vegetables that are red, orange, and yellow colors to enjoy.

Read more:

How to Incorporate Yogurt into your Child's Diet

What Type of Milk Should my Toddler Drink?

Vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the United States.  Americans are more likely to get too much vitamin A from their diets, than too little. Excessive Vitamin A is mostly a concern from over supplementation.1 This can cause adverse effects and is of particular concern for women who are pregnant.1 It would be difficult to consume excessive vitamin A from food sources alone.

Tips for getting enough vitamin A

Include vitamin A-rich food sources in your and your child’s diet regularly

Include a variety of fruits and vegetables:  A rainbow assortment of fruits and vegetables will help you to meet your requirements for vitamin A, so include the following on a regular basis:

Sweet potato, spinach, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, red peppers, mangos, dried apricots, broccoli, and spinach.

Dairy products such as ricotta cheese, milk, and yogurt can be included in a healthy diet and will help you to meet your requirements for vitamin A, as long as the product is fortified. Check out the Nutrition Facts Panel to see if the food contains vitamin A.

If choosing plant-based dairy alternatives, look for vitamin A fortification.

Remember to add some fat to your vitamin A-rich meal.

Here’s a cheat sheet of foods with amounts of vitamin A by serving (mcg RAE):

  • Sweet potato, 1 whole: 1,403 mcg

  • Spinach, frozen, boiled, ½ cup: 573 mcg

  • Carrots, raw, ½ cup: 459 mcg

  • Cheese, ricotta, part skim, 1 cup: 263 mcg

  • Herring, Atlantic, pickled, 3 oz: 219 mcg

  • Milk* with added vitamin A, 1 cup: 149 mcg

  • Cantaloupe, raw, ½ cup: 135 mcg

  • Peppers, sweet, red, raw, ½ cup: 117 mcg

  • Mango, raw, 1 whole: 112 mcg

  • Breakfast cereal, fortified with 10% DV vitamin A, 1 serving: 90 mcg

  • Egg, hard boiled, 1 large: 75 mcg

  • Black-eye peas, boiled, 1 cup: 66 mcg

  • Apricots, dried, 10 halves: 63 mcg

  • Broccoli, cooked, ½ cup: 60 mcg

  • Salmon, sockeye, cooked, 3 oz: 59 mcg

  • Tomato juice, canned, ¾ cup: 42 mcg

  • Yogurt, plain, low fat, 1 cup: 32 mcg

  • Tuna, light, canned, 3 oz: 20 mcg1

*Children under 1 year should not drink cow’s milk. Read more here: How Do I Introduce Milk to my Toddler

Recipe and meal ideas to help increase vitamin A

Wondering about how to include vitamin A in your baby and toddler’s diet? Here are some recipe ideas to help. Feel free to mash or blend any of the below recipes should your little one need a softer or smoother consistency!

Mexican Sweet Potato Boats

Broccoli, Spinach & Avocado Baby Food Puree

Carrot, Sweet Potato and Chickpea Baby Food Puree (or Toddler Dip)

Mini Pizza Bagel Pizzas with Pepper “Sprinkles”

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Meal Plan: Key Nutrients of Pregnancy

Meal Plan: Getting the Right Nutrition while Breastfeeding

Meal Plan for 6 to 9 Month old Babies

Meal Plan for 18 to 24 Month Old Toddlers