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Vitamin D supplements in pregnancy ‘only benefit winter babies’

Taking vitamin D supplements during pregnancy was only beneficial for babies born during the winter time, a UK study has found.

The study of over 1,000 expectant mums showed that overall, taking a daily vitamin D pill – as currently recommended for all pregnant women in national guidelines – made no difference to newborn babies’ bone strength.

However, babies born during winter months did seem to benefit – among these, babies born to mothers who took vitamin D had greater bone mass than those whose mothers took a placebo.

Authors of the study – published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology – said this suggested the supplements help to counteract low maternal vitamin D levels due to lack of sunlight during the late stages of pregnancy.

They said they still supported the current blanket approach to vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy, which their study had shown was ‘safe’ and ‘sufficient to ensure that most pregnant women are vitamin D replete’.

But Professor Ian Reid from the University of Auckland, said in a linked commentary that ‘in pregnancy and other contexts, we should be moving to targeted supplementation with vitamin D… and away from mass medication, which is without proved benefit’.

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The Department of Health currently recommends all pregnant women take 10 micrograms of a vitamin D supplement daily.

The Royal College of Obestricians (RCOG) said that more research was needed to determine whether women at low-risk of vitamin D deficiency could stop taking supplements – and stressed women from high-risk groups must get their ‘required dose’.

RCOG spokesperson Dr Daghni Rajasingam said: ‘Women more at risk of having low vitamin D levels include those of south Asian, black African, black Caribbean, or Middle Eastern origin, women who have limited exposure to sunlight, obese women and those who eat a diet particularly low in vitamin D. It is particularly important these women get their required dose’.

Dr Rajasingam added: ‘In light of this study, further research on the effectiveness of vitamin D supplementation on women at low-risk of deficiency would be beneficial.’

Lancet 2016; available online 1 March


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