LOOKING AFTER YOUR BABY
By Healthy Start (UK)
Tuesday, May 4, 2010.
Babies and toddlers of African and African-Caribbean origin are amongst the most at risk of vitamin D deficiency. The Department of Health is today urging all pregnant and breastfeeding women to take a daily vitamin D supplement to ensure their babies get enough and are at less risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency.
Free vitamins are available through the Government's Healthy Start scheme which supports families on low incomes by providing coupons which can be exchanged for women's and children's vitamins, and vouchers which can be used to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and milk.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and a deficiency can cause bone deformities in children and bone pain, tenderness and muscle weakness as a result of osteomalacia in adults. There is a rising number of reports of rickets (a condition where the bones become weak and soft) in children across the country, particularly amongst African, African-Caribbean, Middle Eastern and South Asian communities.
Dr Minoo Irani, Consultant Paediatrician from NHS Berkshire East said: "Paediatricians across the country are reporting cases of rickets in children, impaired growth and development in toddlers and sometimes fits in infants, as a result of vitamin D deficiency.
"All pregnant and breastfeeding women are at risk of vitamin D deficiency but for those from certain ethnic groups, the risk is even greater. However, this can be prevented by taking daily vitamin D supplements. Healthy Start vitamin supplements, which contain the recommended daily amount of vitamin D for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding are available free of charge to families getting Healthy Start vouchers. Other suitable products are also available over the counter or through NHS prescription - health professionals and pharmacists can advise."
People get most of their vitamin D from the sun when the skin is exposed to summer sunlight. Those with darker skin need more sun to produce as much vitamin D and so are at risk of not getting enough in the UK to last through the winter months. Those who cover up for cultural reasons and younger women are also at risk. Taking an appropriate supplement during pregnancy and while breastfeeding will increase both the mother's and her baby's vitamin D stores and reduce the baby's risk of developing rickets.
Women and children who are supported by the Healthy Start scheme can get free vitamin supplements containing the recommended amounts of vitamin D; the women's vitamins contain folic acid and vitamins D and C and Healthy Start children's vitamin drops contain vitamins A, C and D
The Department of Health recommends that:
All women take a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
That all infants and children from 6 months to 5 years take a daily vitamin D supplement containing 7 micrograms, unless they are drinking 500ml (a pint) or more of infant formula a day at any time during this age range
Some Primary Care Trusts sell Healthy Start vitamins to those not on the Healthy Start scheme. People should ask their health visitor or midwife where they can pick up Healthy Start vitamins locally.
The symptoms of rickets include:
Bone pains, often in the legs
Muscle pains or weakness
Soft skull or leg bones ('bow-legs')
Weak teeth and delayed growth of teeth
When rickets is very severe, it can cause low levels of calcium in the blood, leading to muscle cramps, seizures and breathing difficulties.
Healthy Start is a UK wide statutory scheme which supports pregnant women, new mums and families with young children who are on benefits and pregnant under 18 year olds, by providing vouchers which can be used to buy fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and milk. It also provides coupons which can be exchanged for Healthy Start women's and children's vitamins which help ensure pregnant women, new mums and growing infants may not be getting enough of the vitamins they need.