Vitamin D in fetal development: findings from a birth cohort study

Pediatrics. 2015 Jan;135(1):e167-73. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-1860. Epub 2014 Dec 15.


Birth cohort studies provide an invaluable resource for studies of the influence of the fetal environment on health in later life. It is uncertain to what extent maternal vitamin D status influences fetal development. Using an unselected community-based cohort of 901 mother-offspring pairs (the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort [Raine] Study), we examined the relationship between maternal vitamin D deficiency at 18 weeks' pregnancy and long-term health outcomes of offspring who were born in Perth, Western Australia (32° South), in 1989-1991. Vitamin D deficiency (serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] <50 nmol/L) was present in 36% (323 of 901) of the pregnant women. After adjusting for relevant covariates, maternal vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy was associated with impaired lung development in 6-year-old offspring, neurocognitive difficulties at age 10, increased risk of eating disorders in adolescence, and lower peak bone mass at 20 years. In summary, vitamin D may have an important, multifaceted role in the development of fetal lungs, brain, and bone. Experimental animal studies support an active contribution of vitamin D to organ development. Randomized controlled trials of vitamin D supplementation in pregnant women with long-term follow-up of offspring are urgently required to examine whether the correction of vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women is beneficial for their offspring and to determine the optimal level of maternal serum 25(OH)D for fetal development.

Keywords: bones; brain; developmental origins of health and disease; lungs; pregnancy; vitamin D deficiency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bone Development
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Developmental Disabilities / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lung / growth & development
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications* / epidemiology
  • Vitamin D Deficiency* / epidemiology