According to a new study conducted in Spain, vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy, could negatively affect baby’s brain development – hindering mental and motor skills.
Pregnant women need sufficient vitamin D levels to mantain calcium and phosphorus, which helps build baby’s bones and teeth. But according to these researchers, brain development is also affected by vitamin D levels.
Researchers measured the level of vitamin D in the blood of almost 1 820 women in their first or second trimester of pregnancy. They then examined the mental and motor abilities of their babies when they were around 14 months.
According to their findings published in the journal Pediatrics, children of vitamin D-deficient mothers scored lower than those whose mothers had adequate levels.
“These differences in the mental and psychomotor development scores do not likely make any difference at the individual level, but might have an important impact at the population level,” said study lead author Dr Eva Morales, a medical epidemiologist in the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona.
Findings of the study
The findings also show that lower levels of vitamin D can also result in lower IQs among children, Morales added.
Previous findings linked insufficient levels of vitamin D during pregnancy with language impairment found in children at age 5 and 10.
Other studies reported that low levels of vitamin D could weaken a baby’s immune system and could also increase the risk of asthma, other respiratory problems as well as heart disease.
Get your daily dose of vitamin D
The Institute of Medicine, recommends pregnant women get 600 international units (IU) a day of vitamin D and no more than 4 000 IU/day. However, the Endocrine Society says that 600 units does not prevent deficiency and that at least 1 500 to 2 000 units a day may be required.
“Women must take supplements or spend 10 or 15 minutes in the sun during the summer if they are fair-skinned to get this level of vitamin D”, Hollis added. “It would be difficult to get this many units even from foods rich in vitamin D, such as fatty fish and fortified milk.”
Foods high in vitamin D
- Cod liver oil
- Tuna fish
- Swiss cheese
Other factors that were also considered
The researchers also considered other factors that could influence baby’s mental and motor development. Such factors included:
- birth weight,
- mom’s age,
- social class,
- mom’s education level and
- whether or not mom drank or smoked during pregnancy
Study does not prove cause-and-effect relationship
Even though the study found a link between vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and baby’s brain development – it did not prove a cause and effect relationship.
Although vitamin D is present in both breast milk and infant formula, cholesterol and the amino acid taurine are only found in breast milk and also affect brain development after birth, says Dr Ruth Lawrence, medical director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Centre at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York.
Lawrence added that parents should evaluate the same children when they were between 7 and 8 years old and starting to learn to read and write. This Lawrence believes will give a better idea of what these differences in development scores really mean.
Lawrence advises pregnant women get a dietary consultation in their first trimester and consider vitamin D supplementation. “We have realised that vitamin D has a lot more impact than to prevent rickets,” she said.
Other benefits of vitamin D
Vitamin D has additional benefits for moms to be, as it has been found to lower their risk of pregnancy-related diabetes and high blood pressure. Vitamin D also helps to prevent growth retardation and skeletal deformities, which ultimately affect birth weight.