Free vitamins are available through the Government’s Healthy Start scheme which supports families on low incomes by providing coupons which can be exchanged for women’s and children’s vitamins, and vouchers which can be used to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and milk.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and a deficiency can cause bone deformities in children and bone pain, tenderness and muscle weakness as a result of osteomalacia in adults. There is a rising number of reports of rickets (a condition where the bones become weak and soft) in children across the country, particularly amongst African, African-Caribbean, Middle Eastern and South Asian communities.
Dr Minoo Irani, Consultant Paediatrician from NHS Berkshire East said: “Paediatricians across the country are reporting cases of rickets in children, impaired growth and development in toddlers and sometimes fits in infants, as a result of vitamin D deficiency.
“All pregnant and breastfeeding women are at risk of vitamin D deficiency but for those from certain ethnic groups, the risk is even greater. However, this can be prevented by taking daily vitamin D supplements. Healthy Start vitamin supplements, which contain the recommended daily amount of vitamin D for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding are available free of charge to families getting Healthy Start vouchers. Other suitable products are also available over the counter or through NHS prescription – health professionals and pharmacists can advise.”
People get most of their vitamin D from the sun when the skin is exposed to summer sunlight. Those with darker skin need more sun to produce as much vitamin D and so are at risk of not getting enough in the UK to last through the winter months. Those who cover up for cultural reasons and younger women are also at risk. Taking an appropriate supplement during pregnancy and while breastfeeding will increase both the mother’s and her baby’s vitamin D stores and reduce the baby’s risk of developing rickets.
Women and children who are supported by the Healthy Start scheme can get free vitamin supplements containing the recommended amounts of vitamin D; the women’s vitamins contain folic acid and vitamins D and C and Healthy Start children’s vitamin drops contain vitamins A, C and D