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Rickets in Babies: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jul 14, 2022

    Rickets in Babies: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

    Rickets is a disease where a child’s bones become weak and soft. It can occur in children of all ages, but more commonly in babies aged 6 to 24 months, rarely in newborns unless they have the genetic form of the condition.

    Here are the must-know facts about rickets in babies. 

    1. Rickets has a wide range of causes and risk factors 

    Rickets can occur in babies who lack vitamin D, a micronutrient that helps absorb calcium and phosphorus for healthy and strong bones. 

    Babies who have enough vitamin D in their body can also develop rickets if they cannot use the vitamin properly due to an underlying health condition, such as celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and kidney problems. 

    The following factors also increase the risk of rickets in babies:

  • Dark skin. Dark complexion indicates the presence of more melanin, and it decreases the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D after exposure to sunlight. 
  • Premature birth
  • Certain medications, such as antiretroviral and anti-seizures 
  • Residing in areas where there is less sunshine (northern latitude) or lack of exposure to sunlight.
  • The mother’s vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy
  • Exclusive breastfeeding without vitamin D supplementation 
  • Lack of calcium in the diet
  • 2. Seek medical help as soon as you notice the signs and symptoms of rickets in babies

    According to reports, babies with rickets are typically grumpy or fussy because they experience bone pain, particularly in the arms, spine, pelvis, and legs.

    The other signs and symptoms include:

    • Poor growth resulting in short stature
    • Late crawling or walking
    • Fractures after minor trauma or fall accidents
    • Late closure of the bumbunan or delayed closure of the fantanelles
    • Late eruption of teeth due to a problem in enamel
    • Swelling at the wrists, knees, and ankles because the ends of those bones are larger than usual. 
    • Muscle cramps 
    • Soft skull, which can manifest as an odd-shaped skull

    Finally, many babies with rickets have legs with an abnormal shape, such as bow legs (sakang) or knock knees (pike). However, note that many babies have bow legs that straighten eventually as they put on weight and grow. 

    3. With treatment, it’s possible to correct rickets in babies

    The goals of treating rickets in babies are to address the symptoms and correct the cause of the condition.

    Treatment strategies may include:

    • Administration of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorus. This strategy helps eliminate most of the signs and symptoms of rickets. 
    • Dietary modification and healthy sunlight exposure to address the need for vitamin D. 
    • Vitamin D supplementation. Babies who have problems in absorption may need a higher dose or a special form of vitamin D. 
    • Positioning and bracing to correct bone deformities. More complicated deformities may require surgery. 
    • Treatment for underlying health issues that contribute to the development of rickets. 

    Getting treated as soon as possible is crucial, because some deformities may become permanent without prompt intervention. 

    Reminders Regarding Sun Exposure

    While sunlight exposure is a great way to have more vitamin D,  remember that babies should not have direct sun exposure especially during 10am – 4pm ( greatest intensity of UV rays). 

    Out in the sun, your baby must wear sunglasses and use a doctor-recommended sunscreen lotion or cream to protect their skin. Also, refrain from bringing them out at noon when the sun is too bright. Reports say UV exposure may be less damaging to the skin. 

    Key Takeaways

    Rickets in babies is a preventable disease, especially in the absence of underlying health issues.

    The signs and symptoms include being fussy due to bone pain, late walking and crawling, poor growth, a soft skull, and abnormally shaped legs. In many cases, replacing the vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorus helps eliminate most signs and symptoms. 

    Learn more about Child Health here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jul 14, 2022

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