Getting enough vitamin D during pregnancy gives your baby a foundation for healthy bone growth in childhood and adolescence. This guide answers your questions about the so-called sunshine vitamin so you can optimize your little one's development.
Why Is Vitamin D Important During Pregnancy?
Vitamin D has a host of essential jobs in the body. While it's best known for building healthy bones, it also plays a role in our skin, immune system, eyes, and teeth health. According to the American Pregnancy Association, vitamin D deficiency in adulthood may increase the risk of some types of cancers, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases.
Sufficient vitamin D levels ensure your baby gets the necessary phosphorus and calcium for skeletal development during pregnancy. A deficiency can compromise fetal bone growth, potentially causing fractures and a health condition called rickets that results in soft bones.
How Much Vitamin D Do Pregnant Women Need?
Expert recommendations vary about how much daily vitamin D pregnant women should consume. The Institute of Medicine says that all women should get 15 micrograms or 600 international units of vitamin D every day until age 70.
However, some studies show that taking up to 4,000 daily IU can have a positive effect on fetal health, preventing premature birth, according to the APA. Research also suggests sufficient vitamin D intake during pregnancy can lower your risk of complications such as prenatal diabetes.
Best Vitamin D Supplements During Pregnancy
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says the average prenatal vitamin only has about 400 IU of vitamin D. A supplement will help you boost your intake to at least the 600 IU minimum recommended by IOM.
The APA says that about half of adults are deficient in vitamin D. The section below discusses foods that can help you up your intake of this vital nutrient.
You can also look for supplements in drops, capsules, or tablets. Look for the cholecalciferol type of vitamin D, which is easier for the body to use. If you avoid animal products, however, choose vegan vitamin D (ergocalciferol).
Safe sun exposure can also increase your vitamin D intake. You can spend five to 10 minutes with your face, hands, and arms exposed to sunlight about three times a week to get the necessary benefits without increasing your risk of skin cancer.
Foods With Vitamin D To Eat During Pregnancy
Few foods have natural vitamin D, but you can find many fortified products such as cereal, yogurt, cheese, and milk. To boost your daily vitamin D intake, try supplementing your diet with:
- Cod liver oil
- Fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines, and rainbow trout
- Fortified dairy products
- Fortified plant-based milk (soy, oat, and almond, for example)
- Fortified cereal
- Fortified juices
Detecting Vitamin D Deficiency During Pregnancy
It can be challenging to discern whether you get enough vitamin D during pregnancy. Most people with this nutritional deficiency don't develop symptoms, but some experience bone or muscle pain. In some cases, fractures can even occur.
Some people have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy, including those who:
- Have Crohn's disease, celiac disease, or another chronic disease that impacts fat absorption
- Take diuretics, cholesterol medications, seizure treatment drugs, or steroids
- Have dark skin
- Are obese
- Live in geographic locations with limited sun exposure
- Eat a vegetarian diet
However, research published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2020 indicates that vitamin D deficiency affects many people of all ages, races, and ethnicities. If you have concerns, talk to your healthcare provider. They may test your vitamin D levels and/or recommend a supplement to increase your intake.