Modern Day Vitamin D deficiency

Modern Day Vitamin D deficiency in a westernised culture: unpicking the scare mongering about rickets

Rickets for most of us is something of the past, something you don’t hear of occurring anymore particularly in western cultures. However, recently scare mongering in popular news repositories have been name dropping the historical bone disorder more and more. One eye catching article stated that children who stay inside on computers and parents who apply sun screen excessively to their children in sunny and hot weather is leading directly to sharp increases in bone disease and rickets.

It’s important to remember that these articles are meant to be shocking to read, in order to get more views, and while there is some truth in this it’s embellished to give more of a punch, leaving us very confused. While at the same time we are being told that excessive sun exposure is extremely dangerous, we are also being told our children will develop bone disease if they don’t go in the sun at all? Let’s unpick that one.

Vitamin D is a unique vitamin because it can be synthesised from exposing our skin to the sun. The Vitamin D Receptor (VDR) which synthesises vitamin D from sunlight is present in most cells. Because of the way vitamin D is made in the body, a major cause of vitamin D deficiency is not enough exposure to sunlight, this could be from not spending enough time in the sun at all or from wearing sun screen too much of the time. Some research has shown that wearing an SPF of 30 can decrease Vitamin D production by up to 95%.

While it is incredibly important to be safe in the sun especially with little ones who have often fairer and more sensitive skin than adults, it’s also important that you and your children get enough sun exposure to produce vitamin D. One of the reasons why vitamin D is so important for bone health is because it stimulates calcium absorption in the intestine. Without vitamin D, calcium absorption is impaired to only about 10-15% being absorbed into the blood. It’s also important to remember that the sun is the main source of vitamin D and that dietary absorption is minimal. Yes, that includes fromage frais with added vitamin D!

You might be thinking all of this is well and good, but how do we safely expose our children to the sun so that they get enough Vitamin D to have healthy bones? It’s all about minimising risks of sun exposure whilst maximising the benefits. As the strength of sunlight varies at different times of day, so does the ability for the skin VDR’s to synthesise vitamin D.

The sun is most intense between 11am and 3pm, so at these times, its easiest to synthesise vitamin D so less time is needed in the sun. this is also the time when sunburn is most likely to occur, so short periods of time spent in the sun are best, and also only exposing areas of the skin least likely to burn such as forearms, hands and lower legs.

Before 11am and after 3pm the sun is less intense so you’re less likely to burn, but it takes longer to synthesise vitamin D. Young children should also seek shade between 11 and 3 in the summer months (March to October) and wear protective clothing to cover areas likely to burn, such as a brimmed hat to cover the face and neck. As long as you are careful in the sun you can maximise vitamin D exposure for your little ones, making sure they get enough without getting burned or damaging their skin.

Phoebe BSc (Hons) Nutrition

New born baby sleep

New born babies typically sleep for 16 to 18 hours in a 24-hour period.

If you and your baby had a particularly traumatic delivery, she might want to sleep all the time in the beginning, apart from when she wakes up for a feed.

During the first few days after the delivery, baby will need to rest and recover. Coming into the world must be exhausting. This will give a new mother a little time for extra sleep and a chance to recuperate a little. Gradually you will notice sleep patterns and cycles develop. While adults have sleep cycles of round 90 to 100 minutes long, going from slow wave sleep to REM, a baby from birth to around 6 months old will have shorter cycles of 45 to 50 minutes.

Babies have periods of quiet sleep and active sleep, basically lighter sleep and deep sleep. Have you ever noticed how your baby seems to be zonked out whilst sleeping in your arms yet as soon as you place her in her cot or crib she stirs and immediately starts to cry almost waking fully? If this sounds familiar then you baby was in a light sleep as you put her down in her crib. Often, if you wait for a little longer, for her to go into a deep sleep, she would quietly remain settled with eyes tightly closed and not noticed her change in environment.

Your new born baby will have sleep cycles of 45 to 50 minutes. During the transition between lighter sleep and deep sleep she may stir and need to be resettled. She also will stir from a deeper sleep at the end of a cycle for be fed or because she has other needs to be fulfilled such as a nappy change, wind, too hot too cold or contact with a parent. Most babies will need help to get to sleep, or will need help to learn how to put themselves to sleep. During the first month, its normal for a breast-fed baby to wake as often as every 2 hours for a feed. Because regular night waking in the early weeks and months is a survival mechanism for a new born and the oxytocin hormone secreted in mother’s milk is a natural sedative. Therefore, it’s quite usual for baby to associate nursing back to sleep as the only way to settle. Nursing to sleep is a very natural and healthy way to settle a young baby, it’s a great time for mother and baby bonding. These isn’t anything wrong with this and you should ignore anyone who suggests otherwise.

I’ve heard many times “never allow the baby to fall asleep on the breast” and I suggest if this advice is given you may wish to take it with a large pinch of salt as mother nature has her own opinion. Allowing your young baby to nurse for however long and often as she wishes when she wakes from a sleep develops a sense of security and comfort and apart from helping develop mother baby bond, allowing a new mother to feel relaxed and develop a good milk supply.

Dairy Free

With more and more people feeling the health benefit of a dairy free diet the “Free from” market is booming. Sadly though farm shops and garden centre cafes aren’t up to date on the free from menu, and often found to be lacking in choices.

Recently, while visiting a garden centre and its large busy cafe with a 7 and 4 year old I was surprised to see their ice cream menu badly lacking in dairy free options.

The 7 year old is dairy and gluten intolerant, the 4 year old gluten intolerant but can have dairy. Obviously one child can’t have an ice cream if there isn’t anything suitable for the other.

After lots of drama and quite a few tears (the 7 year old not me) we opted for lemon sorbet for one child and mango for the other.

Sobbing “I hate being dairy free” the 7 year old tried her lemon sorbet reluctantly and left about a third for the wasps. The mango sorbet was devourded with no complains, its just a shame there are not  more dairy free options as so many are now freely available in supermarkets and health food shops such as “Booja Booja” and “Almond Breeze”



Why does my baby wake in the night ?

A relatively new mum asked me this morning “why does my baby wake during the night even when she isn’t hungry?” It’s simple really, the baby doesn’t know she is supposed to sleep in her own cot all night. She actually has no idea it’s supposed to happen this way. It’s obvious that she will get tired and need to sleep, but instinctively a tiny child would prefer to sleep with her mother or in the arms of an adult where she feels safe.

Take a peek into the lives of other mammals. Mostly they sleep with their mother or in a group where they feel secure and protected. You will rarely see a baby mammal sleeping alone as they tend to hang together for safety, its instinctive. Cows park their new borns in a safe place, like under a hedge or in long grass. The mother cow waits until the tiny calf has gone to sleep and then wanders off to graze. She always has her eye on the calf, who on waking will walk straight to is mother for milk. You will usually see a group of slightly older calves sleeping together, often with a mother cow or two looking out for the whole group; it’s like an animal nursery.

Sheep do the same; lambs hang out together, frolic and play with other lambs then sleep in close proximity. Foals sleep close their mum too. Dogs and cats follow the same pattern, the mother feeds her litter, when they are sleeping soundly she will leave them for a while to eat and wash herself.

It’s not so surprising then that a human baby would feel safest and happiest in bed with its mother. Aren’t we just mammals after all? The problems arise when baby is put to bed already asleep, she wakes slightly during the night but instead of still being in some ones arms she is alone. For a moment imagine going to sleep for the night with another person beside you, then you wake to find you are alone but you didn’t see your sleeping companion leave. Wouldn’t this make you anxious or concerned?

A baby can often wake during the night because she has fallen asleep in the arms of a parent, instead of dropping off to sleep in their own bed; she woke during the night to find herself alone, not surprisingly she is in a screaming panic.

In order to drop off by herself and sleep independently (remembering mammals prefer to sleep with other mammals) a baby has to learn to go against instinct. So, if you are striving for a little more sleep, want your baby to sleep by herself and for longer stretches, you will need to teach her to that’s its okay to do so. A gentle approach that gives the right message, helping her develop a positive association with her cot and sleeping alone will work just fine. Providing its done in a calm, kind and gentle way both parent and child can achieve a good nights sleep, waking refreshed and ready to start the day.