Sunshine Vitamin D Essential For Pregnant Women

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Department of Health is encouraging pregnant and breastfeeding women to boost their intake of vitamin D in the darker winter months. Healthcare professionals say more children than ever are presenting with vitamin D deficiency which can cause seizures and rickets.

Whilst vitamin D deficiency is common among the white population, many cases of rickets in the UK are seen in Asian, Afro-Caribbean and Middle Eastern children, with some research suggesting incidence of the disease could be as high as 1 in 100 children in ethnic minority groups. Dark-skinned people do not absorb as much sunlight through the skin and may also wear clothing that limits exposure to the sun for cultural reasons.

While the actual prevalence of rickets is hard to define, more and more healthcare professionals are diagnosing cases of vitamin D deficiency. There is seasonal variation in vitamin D status: it is lowest during winter, when we rely on body stores and dietary intake to maintain adequate levels. In winter months at latitudes of 52 degrees north (above Birmingham), there is no ultraviolet light of the appropriate wavelength for the body to make vitamin D in the skin.

Beneficiaries of the Healthy Start scheme can obtain free Healthy Start Vitamins for Women and Healthy Start Children's Vitamin Drops through their GP or Health Visitor.

Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said:

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"The Healthy Start scheme is designed to improve the health of some of our most vulnerable families. We encourage people who are eligible to take advantage of the free vitamins, to minimise the risk of developing vitamin D deficiency and other conditions.

"We particularly encourage women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to take vitamin D, to protect the health and wellbeing of their baby and help them get the best possible start in life."

It takes only 15 minutes exposure of the arms, head and shoulders in the sun each day during the summer months to make enough vitamin D for good health. Eating foods like oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals and breads are all sources of vitamin D, but these may still be inadequate when sunshine hours are limited. At these times pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under four may benefit from a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D. If you think you may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency, check with your general practitioner who may use a blood test to diagnose this deficiency.

Healthcare professionals are concerned at the increasing numbers of children at risk of Vitamin D deficiency in the UK. Dr Colin Michie, a paediatrician at Ealing Hospital says the biggest issue is maternal shortage of vitamin D. He said:

"We are seeing significant numbers of children with vitamin D deficiency. Mothers and babies are simply not getting enough of this important vitamin."

"Most pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a vitamin D supplement to ensure babies get the best start in life. Babies receive vitamin D from their mothers while in the womb, and then from breastmilk until they are weaned. If a pregnant or breastfeeding woman is lacking in vitamin D, the baby will also have low vitamin D and calcium levels which can lead babies to develop seizures in the first months of life."

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