x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Mothers encouraged to get more sun

A lack of vitamin D for breastfeeding women could be causing health problems for babies, a specialist warns.

ABU DHABI // Scant exposure to the sun that leaves breastfeeding women short of vitamin D could be causing health problems for them and their babies, a leading specialist has warned. "In the Middle East, women wear abbayas and burkas to cover their bodies," said Afrozul Haq, a clinical scientist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC). "Since they are not exposed to sunlight, their vitamin D formation is minimal."

A small study last year at UAE University concluded that virtually all breastfeeding Emirati women are deficient in vitamin D. At SKMC, Dr Haq said, 65 per cent of all female patients and 60 per cent of all male patients are short of the vitamin. The lack of vitamin D in breast milk can cause malnutrition and developmental problems in babies. Such children's bones can become weak and more prone to fracture. It can also cause disorders such as knock knees, bow legs and rickets.

"There are many cases of rickets reported in the UAE, but this may represent only the tip of the iceberg for vitamin D deficiency in general," Dr Haq said. Rajakumari Ravikumar, head of the baby-friendly initiative at Al Mafraq Hospital, advised that mothers and their babies get "casual sun exposure to hands, feet and arms three times a week for 15 minutes". Most baby formula contains enough vitamin D but lacks other benefits of breast milk. Mrs Ravikumar worries that mothers will switch to formula. "Breastfeeding is best for the baby in terms of good health? and there is less incidence of medical problems, such as ear infections and allergy," she said. "When you compare the lack of vitamin D with all these benefits it is clear that formula is not better than breast milk.

amcmeans@thenational.ae