Vitamin D has recently garnered an increasing amount of attention due to its importance in the growth and development of our muscles and bones, and now doctors are looking at its role in the proper functioning of the immune system, especially in newborns.

Becoming a Parent

When our daughter was born, it was one of the most exciting times in our lives — but one of the scariest, as well. In addition to the wonders of becoming a parent came the fears and anxieties over caring for a baby who was completely dependent on us for virtually everything.

Adding to our stress was the fact that the developing immune system of a newborn makes them particularly vulnerable to a constant barrage of infections. From coughs and sneezes, to runny noses and the dreaded rash, the number of potential ailments is enough to keep any parent up at night worrying.

Respiratory Infections

Some of the most common illnesses that parents see in their babies involves the lungs. Acute respiratory infections manifest themselves as coughing or wheezing, and can be caused by either a virus or bacteria. In fact, bronchiolitis, which is a viral infection that affects the airway passages in the lungs, is the No. 1 reason for infant hospitalization in this country.

As any mother or father can attest to, there are not too many events in this world that will raise a parent's level of anxiety more than the need to bring their baby into the hospital.

Now, it seems, that an infant's level of vitamin D may play a role in their risk for these maladies.

The Role of Vitamin D

Looking at over 1000 newborns, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found that the "sunshine vitamin" may actually influence a baby's susceptibility to infection. More to the point, a deficiency of vitamin D, which in this country is more often the case, might very well increase an infant's risk.

The data supports the importance of vitamin D for our immunity. Since a major source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, getting adequate amounts can be a challenge during winter months when the days are shorter and people spend less time outside. Previous research had found that when mothers took vitamin D supplements during their pregnancy, their children were less likely to develop wheezing, a symptom of respiratory infections.

The current study sought to clarify the relationship between infection and actual serum levels of vitamin D. What researchers observed was that over the first five years, the lower the level of detectable vitamin D in the blood, the higher the risk for wheezing during that period. Vitamin D status did not, however, predict the onset of asthma. This last piece of information is important because some studies have suggested that vitamin D may aggravate allergies.

What to Do?

The authors of the study indicate that more clinical trials need to be done, especially looking at the use of supplements, but the findings do point to the potential role of vitamin D in reducing the incidence of infection in newborns. There is even evidence that vitamin D might reduce a child's susceptibility to the flu.

While exposure to the sun increases the amount of vitamin D that our body produces, the sun's harmful rays can also be dangerous, so discretion must be employed. This is especially true with a baby's sensitive skin. Furthermore, it is important to consult with a physician before using any sort of vitamin supplement.

For more information about respiratory infections in newborns, talk to your pediatrician and visit the website for World Health Organization (WHO). To learn more about vitamin D, visit the website for the Office of Dietary Supplements, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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