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Vitamin D deficiency is widespread among newborn babies

- especially babies of color

Vitamin D deficiency is widespread among newborn babiesVitamin D is vital for normal development of the baby’s bones, cognitive skills, IQ, immune defense, and a number of other things. According to a new British study, however, a third of white infants lack vitamin D. The problem is even more pronounced in dark-skinned babies. Here, around half of them lack vitamin D. More focus is needed on pregnant women from exposed groups to help ensure that they get adequate amounts of the nutrient.

During pregnancy, the fetus depends entirely on the mother’s vitamin D status. Vitamin D is transferred to the fetus by way of the placenta. After being transferred, the nutrient is involved in the development of the bones, the brain, the immune defense, the hormone balance, and many other things. This is why it is so important for the expecting mother to get plenty of vitamin D and for the newborn baby to get a vitamin D supplement.
The sun is our primary source of vitamin D. Sun exposure enables our skin to synthesize the nutrient. During the winter period, however, the sun sits too low in the sky to enable this synthesis, at least at northern latitudes. Furthermore, people with dark skin are less able than light-skinned individuals to synthesize the vitamin. The problem is made worse by the fact that we spend too much time indoors, thereby limiting our sun exposure. Also, things such as the use of sun screen and veiled clothing contribute to the problem.

The study

The new study was carried out in a collaboration between The University of Birmingham and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. The scientists studied 3,000 blood samples taken from babies within one week of birth. The samples were collected at the end of the summer period and during the winter in order to examine the periods with the highest and the lowest vitamin D levels. Vitamin D status was divided in three groups: Deficient, insufficient, and sufficient. The levels were assessed with regard to the mother’s ethnicity, social status, and the time of year at which the baby was born.
The majority of newborn children were white, British, full-term babies. The study showed that 35 percent of the babies lacked vitamin D and there was a significant seasonal difference in vitamin D levels. Fifty-two percent of the babies born during the winter lacked vitamin D, while only 18 percent born in the summer had too little vitamin D. Nearly one fourth of the babies that were tested lived in socially challenged areas.
Meanwhile, blood levels of vitamin D were much lower in dark-skinned babies of e.g. African or Asian descent. Around 70 percent of babies from these ethnic groups lacked vitamin D.

Widespread vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of different diseases

Lack of vitamin D in babies may result in potentially life-threatening complications such as heart failure because the body cannot absorb calcium, which is necessary for heart contractions. There has been a number of tragic deaths in England where doctors discovered this problem in colored babies, who are most likely to lack vitamin D. Furthermore, lack of vitamin D at birth and later in life can increase the risk of osteoporosis and rickets.
Other studies have shown that maternal blood levels of vitamin D are linked to the development of the baby’s cognitive skills and IQ. Having too little vitamin D appears to have a negative effect on these functions.
Lack of vitamin D during pregnancy also seems to increase the risk of autism – especially in boys. Virtually all tissues in the body have receptors for vitamin D, a nutrient that is actually considered a steroid hormone. That is why lack of vitamin D later in life can result in a host of diseases.

Reasons why vitamin D deficiencies are so widespread:

  • There are only limited amounts of vitamin D in our diet
  • The sun is our primary vitamin D source but only when it sits high in the sky
  • The darker your skin is, the less vitamin D it produces
  • During the period from October to April, the sun is too weak in places like Great Britain and Denmark to enable vitamin D synthesis in the skin
  • We spend too much time indoors. Sunscreen and veiled clothing are also limiting factors

Time to act

As seen in the new British study, lack of vitamin D among newborn babies is common, especially during the winter period and among dark-skinned babies.
The scientists say that there is an urgent need to correct this imbalance by making sure that all expecting mothers get enough vitamin D. One could easily introduce programs for vitamin D like those that are already in place for vaccines. Or one could follow the Finnish example of enriching certain foods with vitamin D, which has been a successful strategy for optimizing vitamin D levels in the population. According to the new study, there is also a need to identify optimal levels of vitamin D in pregnancy. Vitamin D supplementation is therefore necessary, as it can help prevent serious deficiency diseases, especially among dark-skinned who are more prone.
Vitamin D is a lipid-soluble nutrient. The best way to take it is in capsules or in liquid form where vitamin D is mixed with oil.

Vitamin D recommendations for women of child-bearing age, pregnant women, and children

  • The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration recommends a daily 10-microgram vitamin D supplement all year round for pregnant women and children aged 0-4 years
  • Children and adults with dark skin are advised to continue taking the supplement all year round
  • All white-skinned children and adults are advised to take a vitamin D supplement during the winter period
  • People who do not get enough sunshine should take vitamin D all year round
  • EU’s Scientific Committee on Food has established the following safe upper intake level for vitamin D: 25 micrograms for babies aged 0-6 months, 50 micrograms for children aged 6 months to 10 years, 100 micrograms for children aged 11 years and older and adults including pregnant and breastfeeding women


S. Uday et al. Failure of national antennal vitamin D supplementation programme puts dark skinned infants at highest risk: A newborn bloodspot screening study: Clinical Nutrition Dec. 10, 2021

University of Birmingham. Tragic death of baby highlights the need for vitamin D public health policy change. ScienceDaily June 26, 2018

Melissa M Melough et al. Maternal Plasma 25-Hydroxyvitamin D during Gestation Is positively Associated with Neurocognitive Development in Offspring at Age 4-6 Years. The Journal of Nutrition 2020

Andrea L. Darling et al. Association between maternal vitamin status in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood: results from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. (ALSPAC) British Journal of Nutrition, 2017

Ali, A. A. et al. Developmental vitamin D deficiency increases foetal exposure to testosterone. Molecular Autism. 2020

Emily Henderson. Vitamin D deficiency could explain why autism spectrum disorder is more common in boys. Dec 11, 2020

Vibeke Mikkel Hansen. Forældre glemmer, at give deres småbørn D-vitamin. DR Ligetils nyheder 05-09-2017

Nye D-vitamin-anbefalinger til børn og voksne (

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