Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is especially crucial in pregnancy. Vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining bone health and supporting the immune system. I’m sure you’ve heard of vitamin D before, but you might not know exactly why it’s so important during pregnancy.
First, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in a few foods, including fatty fish, egg yolks, and cheese. It is also produced in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Although it is possible to get vitamin D from sun exposure, it can be difficult to get enough from this source alone, especially during the winter months or for those who live in areas with limited sun exposure. Outside of the summer months, individuals who don’t live within 37 degrees from the equator (see the map in the link) get very little vitamin D conversion from the sun. For that reason, many people, including pregnant women, may not get enough vitamin D from these sources alone, which is why it is important to get your vitamin D levels checked and consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
One of the main reasons vitamin D is so important during pregnancy is that it helps the body absorb and use calcium effectively. Calcium is essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones, and during pregnancy, the body needs extra calcium to support the baby’s development. Vitamin D helps the body absorb and use this calcium, which is especially important for expectant mothers who are at risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. In the baby, vitamin D helps with the development of bones, teeth, and muscles.
In addition to its role in bone health, vitamin D is also a key nutrient for the immune system. During pregnancy, the immune system is compromised to some extent because that allows the fetus to grow and develop, which can make expectant mothers more vulnerable to infections. Vitamin D can help to boost the immune response against infections, which is especially important for pregnant women who are more prone to respiratory tract infections and seasonal viruses.
But the benefits of vitamin D don’t stop there! Research has shown that adequate vitamin D intake during pregnancy is associated with a lower risk of preterm birth (birth before 37 weeks). Studies have also found an association between low vitamin D levels and gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and can increase the risk of complications for both the mother and the baby. Low vitamin D levels were also shown to be associated with preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure in pregnancy that can be dangerous for both the mother and baby.
So, how can you make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D during pregnancy?
The recommended daily intake of vitamin D during pregnancy is 600 IU (international units) or 15 micrograms per day. Therefore, at minimum your prenatal vitamin should contain at least 600 IUs (or 15 mcg) of vitamin D. For a comprehensive breakdown on how to choose a prenatal vitamin and foods to eat in pregnancy check out my free pregnancy nutrition and prenatal vitamins handbook. If you have vitamin D deficiency (25-OH vitamin D levels below 30 ng/mL) or insufficiency (25-OH vitamin D levels below 50 ng/mL) you may need to supplement with higher levels of vitamin D. Supplementing with 2000 IUs per day of vitamin D is generally considered safe; however, it’s important to consult with your doctor or dietitian about your specific needs first before starting any supplement in pregnancy.
In summary, vitamin D is an essential nutrient in pregnancy, and it’s important to ensure that you’re getting enough of this nutrient during this crucial time. By including vitamin D-rich foods in your diet and, if necessary, taking a supplement, you can support the healthy growth and development of your baby and help to protect your own health as well. So, don’t forget to pay attention to your vitamin D intake during pregnancy – your body (and your baby) will thank you!