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Vitamin D in Pregnancy Prevents Newborn Lung Infections

Vitamin D during pregnancy to prevent RSV

Mom's who take vitamin D supplements in pregnancy may be protecting their newborns after birth against a potentially fatal respiratory disease called RSV, says a new study.

The study, published in the American Academy of Pediatrics' medical journal, Pediatrics, found that newborns who were vitamin D deficient at birth were 6 times more likely to develop respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) than those who were not.

In order to determine how much vitamin D infants received in utero, researchers from the Netherlands collected the blood from the umbilical cords of 156 newborns after delivery. The blood was then analyzed for its concentration of vitamin D. The researchers found that the highest blood concentrations were strongly correlated with those moms who took vitamin D supplements during pregnancy. They also found that the newborns who had the lowest levels of vitamin D had a six fold increase in risk for RSV compared to those who had the highest.

In total, 54 percent of the newborns had inadequate intake of vitamin D during pregnancy, 12 percent of which went on to develop RSV in their first year of life.

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"If pregnant women do not take vitamin D supplements, they have low vitamin D levels in the umbilical cord blood and then the children have a severely increased risk of RSV," said Dr. Louis Bont from the Wilhelmina Children's Hospital and University Medical Center in Utrecht. "Intake of vitamin D during late stage of pregnancy is vital to prevent RSV, and probably other respiratory diseases as well.”

RSV is the most common virus that affects the lungs and airways of infants and children causing pneumonia, ear infections, bronchiolitis, croup, lung failure and even death. This virus affects over 5 million children in the United States each year. In fact, almost all children will contract this virus before their 2nd birthday. Bont calculates that by simply having all pregnant mothers take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy this could be reduced by up to 20 percent, or 1 million cases per year.

Currently there is no treatment or vaccine for the RSV virus, making prevention the key to protecting young children. Experts believe that vitamin D has certain properties which help boost the function of the immune system – helping the body protect itself against the RSV virus more effectively.

According to the U.S Office of Dietary Supplements, pregnant women should intake a minimum of 600 IU of vitamin D per day, up to a maximum of 4,000 IU. Not all prenatal vitamins contain the minimum amount of vitamin D so extra supplementation may be necessary.

Resource: Mirjam E. Belderbos, MD, et al., Cord Blood Vitamin D Deficiency is Associated With Respiratory Syncytial Virus Bronchiolitis; Published online May 9, 2011 PEDIATRICS (doi:10.1542/peds.2010-3054)