Breast-fed infants are susceptible to vitamin D deficiency rickets. The current vitamin D ‘adequate intake’ (AI) for 0–6-month-old infants is 10 µg/d, corresponding with a human milk antirachitic activity (ARA) of 513 IU/l. We were particularly interested to see whether milk ARA of mothers with lifetime abundant sunlight exposure reaches the AI. We measured milk ARA of lactating mothers with different cultural backgrounds, living at different latitudes. Mature milk was derived from 181 lactating women in the Netherlands, Curaçao, Vietnam, Malaysia and Tanzania. Milk ARA and plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) were analysed by liquid-chromatography-MS/MS; milk fatty acids were analysed by GC-flame ionisation detector (FID). None of the mothers reached the milk vitamin D AI. Milk ARA (n; median; range) were as follows: Netherlands (n 9; 46 IU/l; 3–51), Curaçao (n 10; 31 IU/l; 5–113), Vietnam: Halong Bay (n 20; 58 IU/l; 23–110), Phu Tho (n 22; 28 IU/l; 1–62), Tien Giang (n 20; 63 IU/l; 26–247), Ho-Chi-Minh-City (n 18; 49 IU/l; 24–116), Hanoi (n 21; 37 IU/l; 11–118), Malaysia–Kuala Lumpur (n 20; 14 IU/l; 1–46) and Tanzania-Ukerewe (n 21; 77 IU/l; 12–232) and Maasai (n 20; 88 IU/l; 43–189). We collected blood samples of these lactating women in Curaçao, Vietnam and from Tanzania–Ukerewe, and found that 33·3 % had plasma 25(OH)D levels between 80 and 249·9 nmol/l, 47·3 % between 50 and 79·9 nmol/l and 19·4 % between 25 and 49·9 nmol/l. Milk ARA correlated positively with maternal plasma 25(OH)D (range 27–132 nmol/l, r 0·40) and milk EPA+DHA (0·1–3·1 g%, r 0·20), and negatively with latitude (2°S-53°N, r −0·21). Milk ARA of mothers with lifetime abundant sunlight exposure is not even close to the vitamin D AI for 0–6-month-old infants. Our data may point at the importance of adequate fetal vitamin D stores.