Canadian mothers and babies, especially those in northern communities, aren’t getting enough vitamin D, according to a new statement by the Canadian Paediatric Society.
Vitamin D deficiency—prevalent among pregnant women, exclusively breastfed infants, and northern Aboriginal populations—can pose serious dangers to the development of a fetus and infant, yet is easily preventable through supplements.
Vitamin D can also help protect babies against certain illnesses in childhood and later in life.
“Ensuring that pregnant women and babies have enough vitamin D can have lifelong implications,” said Dr. John Godel, principal author of the statement. “The currently recommends levels of supplementation for pregnant and breastfeeding women may not be enough to ensure that babies get what they need.”
The CPS recommends that all babies who are exclusively breastfed receive a supplement of 400 IU/day, and that babies in the North (above 55 degrees latitude) get twice that amount during winter months (from October to April).
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should talk to their doctor about taking a supplement of 2000 IU/day.
The CPS statement, Vitamin D supplementation: recommendations for Canadian mothers and infants, published in this month’s issue of Paediatrics & Child Health, also recommends that babies who are at risk of vitamin D deficiency—those with dark skin, who have limited exposure to the sun, or whose mothers are vitamin D deficient—also get extra vitamin D during the winter, regardless of where they live.
Vitamin D, which is involved in the regulation of cell growth, immunity and cell metabolism, is produced mainly in the skin through sun exposure, but is also ingested through food and supplements. Recent data from the Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program suggests that rickets—a vitamin D-deficiency associated illness—is still prevalent in Canada, especially among First Nations and Inuit populations, despite simple and cost-effective prevention measures.
“Limited sun exposure at northern latitudes contributes to low levels of vitamin D, especially among northern Aboriginal communities,” said Dr. Kent Saylor, chair of the CPS First Nations, Inuit and Métis Health Committee. “Vitamin D supplementation is the simplest way to protect mothers and their infants from preventable illness.”
The Canadian Paediatric Society is a national advocacy association that promotes the health needs of children and youth. Founded in 1922, the CPS represents more than 2,500 paediatricians, paediatric subspecialists and other child health professionals across Canada. Paediatrics & Child Health is the peer-reviewed journal of the CPS.