Vitamin D fears for pregnant mums and babies
AUSTRALIA might be the sunburnt country but Western Sydney mothers and babies are riddled with the vitamin D deficiency disease rickets, which was thought to have been eradicated 70 years ago.
Now experts are calling for pregnant women to be advised to take vitamin D supplements, the same way they are advised to take folate.
This recommendation is already in place at Westmead Hospital's maternity unit after a study found half of all pregnant women attending Westmead were deficient in vitamin D.
It is also thought that as many as one in 10 children are vitamin D deficient.
A combination of sun-safe messages, increased migration of darker-skinned women and also women covering up for cultural or religious reasons have led to the resurgence of rickets.
The growing foetus gets vitamin D from the mother, as does breastfed babies. If the mother is deficient in vitamin D, babies can develop rickets, which causes soft and weakened bones, fractures, bone and muscle pain and bone deformities.
Professor of Paediatric Bone and Mineral Medicine at Sydney University Craig Munns is one of the lead authors on an international consensus recommendation for the management of rickets that calls for vitamin D to be taken by mothers during pregnancy and by babies in their first 12 months.
"It's similar to the way we prevent spina bifida by recommending folate to pregnant women. If you want to prevent rickets then you recommend everyone take vitamin D during pregnancy and for the first 12 months of the baby's life and what that should do is almost eradicate nutritional rickets," Prof Munns said.
"We plan to roll it out in Western and southwestern Sydney as a model to show that works and roll it out more widely."
Campbelltown paediatrician Dr Andrew McDonald said the latest case he had seen at Campbelltown hospital was the child of Bangladeshi immigrants.
"We are seeing more cases than we have ever seen," he said.
"More kids are being kept out of the sun and groups that have darker skin or a lot of coverings are at greatest risk."
Caucasian women who spend most of their daylight hours indoors could also develop vitamin D deficiency.
Leading vitamin D researcher Professor Rebecca Mason from the University of Sydney has tracked the issue for the past decade.
"We didn't see much rickets after World War II but we have a multicultural society now," she said.
"Arab, Asian and women who go out modestly dressed, as well as those with a cultural preference for white skin, like some Chinese women, and also orthodox Jewish women, are at risk
"Anyone can get it but the darker your skin or the more you avoid sun, the greater your risk of having it."
Jane Aylward from Marayong is 28 weeks pregnant with her second child.
The 33-year-old takes a pregnancy multivitamin that contains vitamin D. Even though she is caucasian, she works in an office and doesn't get much sun.
"I'm in an office four days a week and go to the gym at lunchtime, so I probably don't get enough sun," she said.