Do you want your baby to grow stronger? New research from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom suggests that young children are likely to develop stronger muscles when their mums enjoyed a higher level of vitamin D during pregnancy.

The connection between vitamin D levels and muscle strength has been well-established by the scientific community. However, the Southampton study, published in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, marks the first time that the relationship between maternal vitamin D status during pregnancy and the muscle development and strength in offspring was examined.

Led by Nicholas Harvey, Ph.D., the researchers measured the vitamin D levels in 678 mothers from the Southampton Women’s Survey in their later stages of pregnancy. Four years after the babies were born, the Southampton team measured their hand-grip strength and muscle mass. The researchers found that the higher the levels of vitamin D in the mother, the higher the grip strength of her child. A secondary finding addressed a lesser connection between maternal vitamin D and the child’s muscle mass.

The Southampton study’s outcome suggests more far-reaching health benefits. Dr. Harvey commented, “These associations between maternal vitamin D and offspring muscle strength may well have consequences for later health; muscle strength peaks in young adulthood before declining in older age and low grip strength in adulthood has been associated with poor health outcomes including diabetes, falls, and fractures. It is likely that the greater muscle strength observed at four years of age in children born to mothers with higher vitamin D levels will track into adulthood, and so potentially help to reduce the burden of illness associated with loss of muscle mass in old age.”

Medical research indicates at least some seeds for disease are sown before birth. Low vitamin D during pregnancy may be one of those seeds. Many pregnant women suffer a vitamin D deficiency that cannot be resolved by taking a prenatal vitamin, most of which only contain 400 IU of vitamin D3—-a woefully inadequate daily dose for anyone of any age ! The conservative National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine 2010 report stated that a safe upper limit for pregnant women is a daily dose of 4,000 IU of vitamin D3, an amount 10 times more than contained in prenatal supplements.

Why risk the health of unborn children? A simple blood test called 25(OH) D, available online and from healthcare practitioners, measures vitamin D levels. The test results pave the way to increase vitamin D intake by acquiring a safe amount of ultraviolet B exposure, or supplementing with vitamin D3 soft gels or liquid drops.