Vitamin D Deficiency Prevalent in Breastfeeding Arab Women and Infants

Physician Calls for Supplementation Beginning in Pregnancy

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Arab women who are breastfeeding have a “very high prevalence” of vitamin D deficiency – a potential health issue for them and their babies, according to a new Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study.

Vitamin D deficiency is largely due to how Arab women dress outdoors – preventing exposure of the skin to sunlight – and low levels of supplementation, according to Adekunle Dawodu, MD, a physician in the Center for Global Child Health at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study.

“Vitamin D deficiency is also common in Arab women during pregnancy and is detrimental to the health of both mother and child,” he says. “The problem can be addressed by either vitamin D supplementation or having expectant mothers expose their skin modestly to sunlight in private, such as the privacy of their own courtyards.”

Dr. Dawodu will present his study at 1 p.m. Pacific time Saturday, April 25, at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in San Diego.

“Vitamin D deficiency is the major cause of rickets around the world, but rickets may be just the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Dawodu. “Increasingly, research is revealing an association between vitamin D and a host of health problems – not just those involving calcium and bone. It also may increase the risk of respiratory infection and chronic diseases after birth and later in life.”

Dr. Dawodu studied vitamin D status of 60 breastfeeding mothers and their infants in Doha, Qatar. Seventy-five percent of mothers had vitamin D deficiency, and 26 percent had blood vitamin D levels considered very low. Only 25 percent had taken vitamin D supplements during pregnancy, and 47 percent were taking supplements postpartum. Sun exposure was very limited.

Eighty-four percent of infants had vitamin D deficiency, and 64 percent had very low levels at the age of four weeks. No infants had been exposed to sunlight or received vitamin D supplementation.

“Severe vitamin D deficiency associated with low sun exposure is common, even in this sunny environment,” says Dr. Dawodu. “Heightened awareness of the problem by health care providers and caregivers and corrective vitamin D supplementation starting during pregnancy would help prevent deficiency in mothers and infants in this setting.”

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Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center ranks third in the nation among all Honor Roll hospitals in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 Best Children’s Hospitals. It is also ranked in the top 10 for all 10 pediatric specialties. Cincinnati Children’s, a non-profit organization, is one of the top three recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health, and a research and teaching affiliate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The medical center is internationally recognized for improving child health and transforming delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education and innovation. Additional information can be found at Connect on the Cincinnati Children’s blog, via Facebook and on Twitter.

Contact Information

Jim Feuer, 513-636-4656,