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F.ood & H.ealth : T.echnologies Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Pregnant women's drinking milk linked to higher birth weight
By John Roberts, Ph.D.
Apr 25, 2006, 15:31

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Expectant mothers need to drink milk during pregnancy to make heavier babies, suggest a Canadian study, which does not explain if heavier babies are definitely healthier though.

In the study, reported in the April 25 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers found that babies born to mothers who drank milk were slightly heavier than those born to those who avoid drinking milk during pregnancy.

The study, funded by the Dairy Farmers of Canada ad FRSQ, Fonds de recherch´┐Ż en Sante du Quebec, was meant to find some benefits associated with mother's drinking milk during pregnancy.

The study was prompted by the fact that many women now avoid drinking milk during pregnancy in an attempt to avoid lactose intolerance, stomach discomfort, and other possible implications to the babies such as diabetes and allergies.

"None of these reasons is strong enough to make the recommendation that pregnant women should avoid milk, except for the small number of women clearly diagnosed with problems," Kristine Koski , coauthor of the study, is quoted by WedMed as saying.

For the study, Cynthia A. Mannion, Katherine Gray-Donald and Kristine G. Koski at McGill University in Montreal surveyed 279 healthy mothers ages 19 to 45 and newborns, among whom 207 mothers drank milk during pregnancy compared to 72 who did not. Participants were screened from 2091 women who attended prenatal classes at three hospitals in Calgary, Alberta.

The participants were surveyed for their dietary habits including drinking milk and use of vitamin D supplements. Blood samples were collected for vitamin D measurements in the mothers. Women who drank less than one cup (250 ml) were considered as non-milk drinking mothers.

In comparison, women in both groups had similar intakes of calories and fat. Women who drank milk tended to have higher intake of protein compared to those who did not drink, (106 grams versus 95 grams per day). Both groups had similar,yet enough intake of calcium and riboflavin.

Babies born to women who drank milk during pregnancy were slightly but statistically insignificantly heavier than those born to mothers who avoid drinking milk, 3530 grams versus 3410 grams (p value= 0.07), according to the study. When p-value is less than 0.05, the difference is viewed as significant.

In addition to the birth weight, researchers also studied crown-heel length and head circumference of newborns, but found that both parameters are the same in both groups.

Vitamin D and milk consumption as well were associated with the bird weight. Drinking each additional cup of milk could increase 41 grams in birth weight whereas each additional microgram of vitamin D was associated with an increase of 11 grams in body weight.

However, there was no association between nutrients such as protein, riboflavin and the birth weight. Head circumference and crown-heel length were not associated with intake of the nutrients other than vitamin D either.

In the study, researchers considered vitamin D from both diets and supplements. They found that mothers who did not drink milk were more likely to be vitamin D sufficient as judged against the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, (11% versus 6 %).

Vitamin D is known to offer many health benefits to babies. Studies have found mothers who got enough vitamin D tended to have babies with stronger bone.

The authors suggest that pregnant women should drink milk during pregnancy to have heavier babies. They said that although the difference in birth weight in both groups of babies was not big, that is a sign of something bad for the lowered weight babies. The authors did not elaborate to explain why such a tiny difference in birth weight could be bad for babies.

Koski told WebMed two possible reasons pregnant women should drink milk to get sufficient vitamin D. For one, women in regions where there is not much sunshine all year long may not get enough vitamin D from sunshine exposure. Sunshine is known to trigger synthesis of vitamin D in the body. Usually, 15 minutes of exposure will make enough vitamin D.

For the second reason, Koski claimed that supplements may not offer enough vitamin D. Koski did not elaborate this conclusion. Vitamin D supplements can be easily purchased locally or over the Internet.

Critics say that there may be little doubt about the importance of vitamin D, but it is not proper to say pregnant women have to drink milk to get enough vitamin D. Drinking milk does not offer too much vitamin D anyway, according to some experts.

Much of vitamin D in milk is supplemented. Vitamin D is also used to fortify other foods. The authors admit that the nutrients in milk can be found in other foods, but it seems they try to convince people that milk may serve as the best source of vitamin D.

No one has claimed that drinking milk is the prerequisite for having a healthier baby. As for vitamin D intake, the fact is that milk is not the only source available.

The clinical significance associated with the tiny difference in the birth weight in both groups of babies remains unknown. It is too early to say this tiny birth weight difference, which was attributed to mothers' drinking milk during pregnancy, could cause any noticeable health impact on the babies.

Vitamin D is important to both the pregnant woman and the fetus. But if a pregnant woman doesn't drink milk for whatever reason, she can get enough vitamin D either by exposure to sunshine from time to time, or use other vitamin D rich foods or supplements.

The Food and Nutrition Board does not recommend pregnant women have a particularly higher daily intake of vitamin D. The Board sets the adequate vitamin D intake for pregnant women at 5 mcg or 200 international units (IU), which is equivalent to 16 ounces of milk.

Many experts believe that the recommended intake for vitamin D is too low, but there is no definite recommendation as to how much vitamin D a pregnant women should get daily. The general consensus is that a dose below 1000 IU should be safe. Vitamin D expert Bruce W. Hollis, PhD, of the Medical College of South Carolina recommends pregnant women get 2000 IU daily, which can not be obtained by drinking milk.

According to Hollis who wrote a commentary accompanying the study report, even those who drank milk had lower levels of vitamin D. Eight ounces of commercial cow milk contains 2.5 micrograms or 100 IU. Compared to what Hollis recommends, that is nothing.

High doses of vitamin D can be toxic though. The Board decides that infants ages 0-12 months can tolerate 25 mcg (1000 IU) per day, and children 1-18 years and adult s ages1 9 or older 50 mcg (2000 IU). But new research has indicated that healthy adu1ts can well tolerate 10,000 IU daily. Drinking vitamin D supplemented milk or other foods should not cause a toxic effect.

Exposure to sunshine is the safest and cheapest way to get vitamin D. Pregnant women should try to get at least 15 minutes of sunshine exposure daily, which can help make enough vitamin D. If the pregnancy happens during the winter when there is not much sunshine, one may use vitamin D-rich foods including milk or vitamin D supplements.

Foods that are rich in vitamin D include canned pi nk salm0n (530 IU per 3 ounces), canned s@rdine (231 IU per 3 ounces), canned mackere1 (214 IU per 3 ounces) and e99 y0lk (25 IU per medium eg g). Vitamin D is also used to fortify foods such as milk, orange juic e and cerea1s, the latter two were not mentioned in the study report.

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