Rickets, Not Enough Vitamin D for Baby

Vitamin D is powerful. It helps a lot of things like diabetes, artery disease, cancer and good old fashioned death-risk. And now, Roni Caryn Rabin of The New York Times explores how lack-of-it impacts babies and rickets. Here’s a bit:

Once Aleanie started putting weight on her feet, her mother noticed that her legs were curving in a bow shape below the knees. Doctors diagnosed vitamin D-deficiency rickets, a softening of the bones that develops when children do not get enough vitamin D — a crucial ingredient for absorbing calcium and building bone, and the one critical hormone that breast milk often cannot provide enough of.

“I thought I was doing the best thing for her,” said Stephanie Remy-Marquez, of Hyde Park, Mass., after blood tests showed her daughter had no detectable vitamin D. X-ray images of the baby’s wrists and knees showed the edges of the bones and growth plates as blurry and fraying instead of crisp and sharp.

“Breast milk is supposed to be an entire meal, dessert and drinks included,” Ms. Remy-Marquez said. “I thought it was the ultimate cocktail.”

Aleanie’s case was unusual enough to be written up in the journal Clinical Pediatrics in May, but several similar reports have been published in recent years. Some experts fear that vitamin D deficiency, which can be asymptomatic, may be more common than pediatricians realize and that rickets — perceived to be a 19th-century scourge that was wiped out with the fortification of milk — may be going undetected.

Physicians have known for more than a century that exclusive breast-feeding may be associated with vitamin D deficiency and rickets, and that the condition is easily prevented and treated with inexpensive vitamin drops or cod liver oil. But doctors are reluctant to say anything that might discourage breast-feeding.

Now some researchers are also linking vitamin D deficiency with other chronic diseases like diabetes, autoimmune disorders and even cancer, and there have been calls to include blood tests of vitamin D levels in routine checkups.

“I completely support breast-feeding, and I think breast milk is the perfect food, and the healthiest way to nourish an infant,” said Dr. Catherine M. Gordon, director of the bone health program at Children’s Hospital Boston and an author of several studies on vitamin D deficiency, including Aleanie’s case.

Excluding societal hangups, it’s hard to make a case against breastfeeding. Dr. Fuhrman is all about breastfeeding. Take kid’s allergies, breastfeeding helps! Not to mention breastfeeding also helps prevent ear infections and breast milk provides brain-building DHA.

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Heather - August 27, 2008 5:12 PM

This doesn't say whether the mother had herself tested for vit D. Breastfeeding is NOT the cause of Vit D deficiency and rickets. Babies are born with a store of Vit D and receive tiny amounts of it through breastmilk. If a pregnant woman is Vit D deficient, she cannot pass on adequate stores ot her baby, thus the baby is likely born deficient. All women should have their Vit D levels checked before getting pregnant and supplement as required. It is a sunshine deficiency problem in mothers, not a breastfeeding issue, although formula companies would like you to believe otherwise.

Sara - August 27, 2008 11:20 PM

I was thinking the same thing. Was the mother also deficient? That seems like the most likely reason for a breast-fed baby being deficient.

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