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More vitamin D for mothers, less for infants?

By Lorraine Heller , 07-Sep-2009

A new study at the University of British Columbia will examine whether increasing the recommended dose of vitamin D for pregnant women will increase levels of the vitamin delivered to their babies in breast milk.

According to a report in Montreal Gazette, the study aims to see if increasing maternal intake of the vitamin will reduce the need for infant supplementation.

"We want to see if we can bump up the levels in the infant. During the pregnancy and through lactation I think higher doses of vitamin D is probably sufficient to keep the infant levels of vitamin D high enough (without supplements),” said Dr Tim Green, a scientist in the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) food, nutrition and health department.

According to Green, although pregnant women take vitamin supplements, most are not getting enough vitamin D to pass on to their babies through breast feeding.

Benefits

The major function of vitamin D in the human body is the maintenance of blood serum concentrations of calcium and phosphorus by enhancing the absorption of these minerals in the small intestine. As such, it is linked to maintaining bone health. In addition, the vitamin is thought to help maintain the immune system and reduce inflammation.

However, although the vitamin is essential in humans, experts have noted that about one billion people are estimated to be vitamin D deficient, even more so since very few foods are fortified with the vitamin.

Vitamin D deficiency may precipitate or exacerbate osteopenia, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, fractures, common cancers, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases. There is also some evidence that the vitamin may reduce the incidence of several types of cancer and type 1 diabetes.

New study

The UBC study, due to commence this fall, the measure vitamin D levels in 220 Vancouver women who are between 18 and 22 weeks pregnant. Scientists will also track the women for six months after lactation.

The women, who will be of varying skin color, will be given different doses of the ‘sunshine vitamin’. Scientists will then measure how much is present in breast milk, as well as levels in the babies.

Currently, Health Canada and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend breastfed infants be given 400 International Units (IU) per day.

Health Canada recommends that supplementation should begin at birth and continue until the infant's diet includes at least 10 µg (400 IU) per day of vitamin D from other dietary sources or until the breastfed infant reaches one year of age.

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