High vitamin D intake will not only regulate calcium and phosphorus levels in pregnant mothers, it will lead to a strong and healthy growing baby. According to a recent study, expectant mothers with high vitamin D levels give birth to babies with better grip strength and more muscle mass, offsetting the risk of diabetes in adulthood.

During pregnancy, women are recommended to get 600 IUs (15 micrograms) of vitamin D each day if they’re not exposed to adequate sunlight, says the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB). However, the Vitamin D Council believes taking 4,000 to 6,000 IUs of vitamin D a day will ensure the individual is getting enough vitamin D as a pregnant mother, and getting enough vitamin D for the unborn child. Soon-to-be mothers who fail to get adequate levels of the “sunshine” vitamin put their baby’s bones at risk for becoming soft. The newborn’s bones may be more likely to break and at an increased risk of the bone condition rickets.  

The Mayo Clinic says a vitamin D or calcium deficiency results in poor calcium and phosphorus levels in bones, which causes rickets. Without sufficient vitamin D levels, the body is unable to absorb nutrients from the food and will therefore have problems using vitamin D properly. Signs and symptoms of rickets may include delayed growth, pain in the spine, pelvis, legs, and muscle weakness. Patients with rickets may also experience skeletal deformities, such as bowed legs, thickened wrists and ankles, and breastbone projection, due to the softening of the growth plates at the end of a child’s bones.

Higher levels of vitamin D during pregnancy will not only help to prevent rickets but will ensure a child has healthy bone and teeth grow. British researchers believe high levels of the sunshine vitamin will also improve muscle mass, grip strength and ward off the possibility of diseases such as diabetes in adulthood.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU) at the University of Southampton investigated the associations between maternal vitamin D intake during 34 weeks of gestation and its effects on offspring lean mass and muscle strength at age four. The Southampton Women's Survey (SWS), U.K. population-based mother-offspring cohort, was utilized to recruit over 600 mother-child pairs for the study.

The participants’ children’s grip strength and muscle mass were evaluated to observe how high levels of vitamin D affected their development. Grip strength dynamometers are often used to assess the hand function in children. The National Institutes of Health state the influence of growth and neuromuscular maturation make it difficult to use normative grip strength data when conducting follow-ups in studies.

The findings revealed maternal high concentrations of vitamin D in pregnancy was positively associated with offspring height-adjusted hand grip strength and muscle mass. The higher the vitamin D levels were, the higher the child’s grip strength and muscle mass were found to be at 4 years old. The researchers believe the greater muscle strength observed at age 4 in children will track into adulthood and potentially help to reduce the burden of illness affiliated with the loss of muscle mass in old age.

"These associations between maternal vitamin D and offspring muscle strength may well have consequences for later health; muscle strength peaks in young adulthood before declining in older age, and low grip strength in adulthood has been associated with poor health outcomes including diabetes, falls and fractures," said Dr. Nicholas Harvey, senior lecturer at the University of Southampton, in the news release.

Sufficient levels of vitamin D, especially while pregnant, plays an important role in regulating the immune system and cells, where it may even help prevent cancer. Those who live in northern areas in the United States or who are elderly may not be getting enough vitamin D due to colder climates and limited sun absorption. Therefore, it is vital to get the recommended dose of vitamin D to prevent diseases, including breast, colon, and prostate cancer, high blood pressure, depression, and obesity — all associated with low levels of vitamin D, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. Medical experts note the evidence available doesn’t prove that too little vitamin D can cause these conditions, but they show that people with higher levels of the vitamin are less likely to gets these diseases.

The study conducted is serving as part of a larger program of research "at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit and University of Southampton in which scientists are seeking to understand how “factors such as diet and lifestyle in the mother during pregnancy influence a child's body composition and bone development.”

The findings of this study can help to design interventions targeted at ideal body composition in children that will follow into adulthood and to overall improve the health of future generations.

To learn more about vitamin D during pregnancy, click here.

Source: Cooper C, Davies JH, Godfrey KM et al. Maternal Antenatal Vitamin D Status and Offspring Muscle Development: Findings From the Southampton Women's Survey. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2013.