Mom's vitamin D levels may affect baby's language development

by Julie Snyder

Vitamin DYou listen to three 4-year-olds as they chattered away, amazed at the difference in their mastery of language.

"Don't jump on the couch," Jer bossed.

"I'm not exactly leaping...I'm just walking extremely high. See? I almost can touch the ceiling!" Celia said.

"What does that mean?" Jessie asked?

One of the kids had an advantage verbally; another couldn't follow the conversation.

You'd probably prefer your child can understand and express themselves well before starting kindergarten.

Reading to kids and talking with your baby early on helps with verbal skills. It seems that good nutrition may also give language a boost, even while your baby is still in the womb.

Vitamin D and your baby

Mounting evidence suggests that vitamin D does a lot more than just promote healthy bones. Researchers have been looking into its role in decreasing muscle and bone pain, lowering blood pressure, boosting your immune system and lessening the chance that you'll have certain cancers.

During pregnancy it helps your baby form strong bones. Studies indicate your level of this vitamin has other future benefits for your baby, including less respiratory infections and less risk of asthma during childhood.

A recent study indicates that optimal prenatal vitamin D levels offers your baby another benefit.

Vitamin D levels may affect your child's language skills

Over 20 years ago, a group from the University of Western Australia's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Centre for Child Health Research began following pregnant moms and their children.

The mothers-to-be were separated into four groups, from the lowest serum vitamin D to the highest. For the next 17 years, the children were evaluated for behavior and language problems.

The Child Behavior Checklist was conducted at 2, 5, 8, 10, 14, and 17 years of age. Receptive language was evaluated with the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised at ages 5 and 10 years.

The researchers found no link between vitamin D deficiencies during pregnancy and behavior, but they did find significant language impairment between the groups.

Women with the lowest levels during pregnancy were at least twice as like to have children with language problems as 5-year-olds and 10-year-olds compared to women with high levels.

The authors concluded that supplementing vitamin D during pregnancy might reduce the risk of developmental language difficulties.

Getting enough vitamin D

How can you ensure your baby bean gets plenty of this important vitamin? Most of us get ours from fortified milk, juice, fish, exposure to sun or from supplements. If you live away from the equator, are pregnant during the winter or don't eat or drink products rich in vitamin D, you and your baby might be deficient.

Five to 30 minutes in the sun should be enough to manufacture adequate vitamin D. Are you concerned about the affect of sun on your skin or have reason to believe your levels could be low? See if your midwife or doctor thinks "liquid sunshine" from vitamin D supplements would be safe and effective for you.

Did you or will you talk with your caregiver about vitamin D during pregnancy?

Medical reference:
- Whitehouse, AJO, et al. Maternal Serum Vitamin D Levels During Pregnancy and Offspring Neurocognitive Development. Pediatrics 2012; 129:3 485-493. (doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2644)

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.