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Study finds maternal vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of premature birth

Posted on: December 9, 2015   by  John Cannell, MD


Preterm birth is the number one cause of mortality in newborn infants. Premature babies are at an increased risk for cerebral palsy, delays in development, rickets and respiratory distress. About 15 million preterm infants are born each year worldwide (5% to 18% of all deliveries). In many countries, rates of premature births have increased over the last 25 years. Complications from preterm births have decreased from 1.57 million in 1990 to 0.74 million deaths in 2013 due to better treatment in the neonatal intensive care units

Now, Professor Carol Wagner and colleagues have published a paper suggesting 50% of premature births could be prevented  in pregnant women took adequate doses of vitamin D.

Wagner CL, Baggerly C, McDonnell S, Baggerly KA, French CB, Baggerly L, Hamilton SA, Hollis BW. Post-hoc analysis of vitamin D status and reduced risk of preterm birth in two vitamin D pregnancy cohorts compared with South Carolina March of Dimes 2009-2011 rates. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2015 Nov 10

They combined the supplementation trials of 509 pregnant women (2,000 or 4,000 IU/day) and measured resultant vitamin D levels to determine if the achieved vitamin D levels were associated with premature births..

As the graph below shows, the results were amazing. The 233 women who achieved a final vitamin D level of 40 ng/ml had a 50% lower rate of prematurity than women with lower levels. The graph below shows that rates of prematurity continue to rise until maternal vitamin D levels exceed 40 ng/ml.

They also compared the prematurity rates in women over 40 ng/ml with the March of Dimes statistics in South Carolina and confirmed the 50% lower prematurity rate.

prematurity graph

The authors concluded:

“The March of Dimes estimates that the annual cost of preterm births in the United States is $12 billion (for 455,918 children) . If approximately 50% of preterm births could be prevented in the general population, as this analysis suggests is possible, there could be $6 billion available for other services and, more than 225,000 children and families spared this trauma. In light of this, practice guidelines at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and other institutions are currently being changed to prospectively target 40 ng/mL for pregnant women with the goal of dramatically lowering preterm birth rates.”

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