Health of a mother and the types of foods she eats may have a long-lasting effect on her baby’s future health and bone, says a dietitian, Nwabumma Asouzu.
Asouzu adds that a baby’s intake of vitamin D and calcium during breastfeeding and weaning will determine whether or not he will need vitamin D supplementation.
Asouzu, who is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, notes that poor vitamin D content of human milk increases an infant’s risk of vitamin D deficiency when breast milk is the sole source of nutrition without vitamin D supplementation.
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, the dietitian states that babies depend on their mothers for essential vitamin D and calcium.
She pointed out that vitamin D and calcium both play key dietary roles in bone health of children.
The dietitian said, “Vitamin D is also crucial for the long-term bone health of the mother and child and for the possibility of reducing the risk of long-term chronic diseases.
“It was previously thought that we obtained sufficient vitamin D from the sun. We now know that for many people this is insufficient and there are few dietary sources of vitamin D.
“Calcium is much more easily obtained from the diet, and so deficiency should be less of a problem.
“However, not all of the population consumes adequate amounts of calcium. With the emphasis on exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life and because of the low levels of vitamin D in breast milk, it is imperative that pregnant and breast-feeding women are made aware of these possible deficiencies, their impact and what actions they can take.
“Human milk contains little vitamin D (approximately 20 IU/litre) and so lactating mothers with low vitamin D levels will provide their babies with even less than mothers who are sufficient in vitamin D.
“This will have an impact on the baby’s vitamin D status, as well as on bone health in childhood.”
She said vitamin D is crucial for the future bone health of childhood and adolescence.
“After birth, the baby’s bone health will be affected by the amount of vitamin D and calcium in the mother’s breast milk, the availability of a vitamin D supplement and the quality of the weaning diet.
“During lactation, it is recommended that the mother’s calcium intakes are increased to accommodate the needs of the infant as well as those of the mother.
” All these factors are important not only in infancy but because they influence future bone health in childhood and adulthood, including protection against osteoporosis.
” It is important for health professionals and public health specialists to be aware of these issues and to ensure mothers receive the information they need to help them choose a healthy diet,” she explained.
Asouzu said maximising bone health begins with maternal health and nutrition, which influences skeletal mass and bone density in the foetus.
She noted, “Evidence shows that vitamin D deficiency in mothers during late pregnancy is associated with a deficit in the accrual of bone mineral in their children, as has been shown at nine years of age.
“This is of particular concern as vitamin D deficiency is well known to occur in otherwise healthy, pregnant women. During pregnancy, vitamin D is also essential to sustain increased calcium absorption and utilisation.
“Along with an adequate vitamin D status, adequate calcium intake influences peak bone mass. The foetus accumulates about 30 grams of calcium in utero from its mother and 80 percent of this transfer occurs in the last trimester of pregnancy.
“Supplying the foetus with sufficient calcium depends on many factors, including maternal calcium intake and vitamin D status.”
The primary bone-forming minerals she says are calcium, phosphorus and magnesium (at birth the infant’s skeleton contains 98 percent, 80 percent and 60 percent, respectively, of these minerals.
The dietitian suggested that women should be provided with information on the benefits of a healthy diet and practical advice on how to eat healthily throughout pregnancy.
In a 2019 study published in BMC journal, the authors say the average intakes of vitamin D from food sources in children aged up to four years old were less than a third of the recommended amount , and that uptake of supplements is low in breastfeeding mothers and children under five .
The researchers said children under five are therefore at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency.
According to them, parents were generally not aware of the importance of vitamin D dietary requirements including supplementation and the availability of vitamin D fortified foods.
They emphasised that major improvements are required for the effective promotion of vitamin D information to parents citing the implications of its deficiency.
“Prolonged vitamin D deficiency could also have detrimental consequences to health in later life, for example vitamin D insufficiency has been associated with other health problems in adulthood, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and autoimmune diseases , which has implications for future health services treatment and management costs”, the authors said.
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