PREGNANT women who take supplements may reduce their baby’s risk of life-threatening illness, study finds.
Croup is a virus in babies and young children that causes coughing and difficulty breathing.
Most cases are mild and can be treated at home. But some children will need hospital treatment and respiratory support.
Death from croup is rare, occurring in about one in 30,000 cases.
Researchers in Copenhagen, Denmark, examined 736 pregnant women divided into four groups.
In each group, the women received vitamin D with fish oil or olive oil, in varying doses.
The women’s children were followed until they were three years old, and all those suspected of having croup were diagnosed by a doctor or through their medical records.
There were a total of 97 cases of croup among the children.
Fish oil protected against croup – only 11% of children whose mothers took it contracted the virus, compared to 17% of children whose mothers took olive oil.
All of the pregnant women took vitamin D, but half took a high dose of 2800 IU, while the other half took a standard dose of 400 IU.
But only 11% of children whose mothers took the high dose had croup, compared to 18% in those whose mothers took the standard dose.
Dr Nicklas Brustad, clinician and postdoctoral researcher who led the study, said: “Our results suggest that vitamin D and fish oil may be beneficial for childhood croup at high enough doses.
“These are relatively inexpensive supplements, which means this could be a very cost-effective approach to improving the health of young children.”
Dr Brustad, who presented the findings at the International Congress of the European Respiratory Society in Barcelona, Spain, said the protection of these two vitamins was unclear.
“But it could be that they can boost the immune system to help babies and young children clear infections more effectively,” he said.
Professor Rory Morty, who was not involved in the research, said the lung health of young children can be influenced during pregnancy.
“For example, babies whose mothers smoke tend to have poorer lung health,” said Professor Morty, chair of the European Respiratory Society’s Lung and Airway Developmental Biology Group.
“We are increasingly finding that things in a mother’s diet can also help or hinder a baby’s lung development.”
The NHS advises pregnant women to take vitamin D supplements to keep their bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
Do not take more than 4,000 IU (100 micrograms) of vitamin D per day as it may be harmful.
Although the NHS does not advise taking fish oil, it does recommend avoiding cod liver oil, which is a type of fish oil.
What is croup?
Croup is a condition that occurs in young children and babies and affects their trachea (windpipe), airways to the lungs (bronchi) and larynx (larynx).
Typically, croup is identifiable by the distinctive cough that sounds like a dog barking.
It may also have a harsh, painful sound when the child breathes, known as “stridor”.
A child with croup may also have a hoarse voice.
In most cases, this is a condition that can be easily diagnosed by your GP and then treated at home.
However, if their airways are blocked and your youngster is having trouble breathing, you may need to take them to the nearest A&E department.
Croup spreads in the same way as the common cold and is therefore very difficult to prevent.
As with most things, the best defense against a terrible cough is good hygiene – this will involve washing your hands regularly and cleaning surfaces.
Some of the routine vaccines your child receives, such as the MMR vaccine, will protect against some of the infections that can cause croup.