Give pregnant women vitamin D, say doctors

Pregnant mothers should be given vitamin D to help safeguard their babies' health, doctors in the UK have warned.

In an article published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers at the UCL Institute of Child Health (ICH) said that despite a growing body of evidence linking vitamin D deficiency to complications in pregnancy and poor neonatal health, the UK remained the only one of 31 European countries without a set vitamin D recommendation for women of reproductive age, while also failing to endorse a daily supplement for expectant mothers.

Elina Hyppönen, reader in epidemiology and public health at the ICH and a co-author of the paper, said: "The incidence of vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women in Britain is unacceptably high, especially during winter and spring. This is compounded by a lack of exposure to sunlight and the limitations of an average diet to meet the optimal need.

"In the most severe cases, maternal vitamin D deficiency can be life threatening to a newborn. We believe that the routine provision of a daily supplement throughout pregnancy would significantly decrease the number of mothers who are clearly vitamin D deficient, reducing related serious risks to their babies.

"Our take on vitamin D supplementation in the UK has seen many changes over the decades and we can see clearly from past experience that a proactive approach to supplementation has coincided with a much lower incidence of deficiency linked diseases such as infantile hypocalcaemia and rickets."

Current data for the UK shows that women are more likely to be vitamin D deficient than men — 9.2% and 6.6% respectively. In the article, Hyppönen and co-author Barbara J Boucher draw on historical data supporting the case for a daily dose of at least 10µg of vitamin D to prevent vitamin D deficiency in pregnant mothers, and recent evidence suggesting potentially wide-ranging benefits for the prevention of deficiency for the health of the mother and her child.

"This risk of vitamin D deficiency is largely being overlooked by our health professionals," said Hyppönen. "Under a current government scheme, pregnant women who are on a low income are entitled to receive supplements free of charge, but there is no strong evidence to suggest that this group are at greater risk. What's needed is a unified approach that will ensure that all expectant mothers, regardless of their economic status, are informed of the benefits of taking a regular supplement throughout pregnancy."

'Avoidance of vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy in the United Kingdom: the case for a unified approach in National policy' by Elina Hyppo¨nen and Barbara J. Boucher: British Journal of Nutrition (2010), doi:10.1017/S0007114510002436
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