The majority of vitamin D taken in by the body comes from exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Small amounts of the vitamin are also found in some foods.
An important function of vitamin D is its role in the absorption of minerals such as phosphorus and calcium. Vitamin D and calcium are considered vital to bone health since adequate amounts of the vitamin are needed for calcium to be absorbed from the digestive tract.
Benefits of Vitamin D in Pregnancy
Studies show vitamin D plays an important role in pregnancy by boosting fetal brain development, mental and motor skills. Vitamin D has long been associated with bone and teeth strength.
New research also indicates maternal vitamin D deficiency during the first 26 weeks of pregnancy increases the risk of severe preeclampsia, a life-threatening complication associated with high blood pressure, protein in the urine and fluid retention.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that women who were discovered to have low levels of vitamin D during the first 26 weeks of gestation were 40 percent more likely to develop preeclampsia than those with adequate vitamin D levels.
Previous studies have indicated children born to mothers with adequate vitamin D levels have a much higher grip strength compared to those born to mothers with low vitamin D levels. Other researchers have reported low prenatal vitamin D levels could lead to weak immune systems in newborns.
Sources of Vitamin D in Pregnancy
In addition to the vitamin D the body absorbs from sunlight, the fat-soluble vitamin is found in a limited number of foods. Fatty fish like tuna, mackerel and sardines contain small amounts of vitamin D, and the nutrient is added to many dairy products, fruit juices and cereals. When adequate levels are not consumed in the diet or obtained from sun exposure, vitamin D can be taken in supplement form.
Ideally, most gynecologists agree, efforts should be made to obtain vitamin D naturally from short daily periods of sun exposure and a healthy diet. When that is not possible, vitamin supplements may be required.
Since it is difficult to consume enough vitamin D containing food to fulfill requirements, experts suggest fair-skinned women strive for 10-15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure during summer months with slightly more time in the sun needed for darker skin types.
Pregnant women should consult their OBGYN about vitamin D supplements since recommendations vary. Some groups, including the Endocrine Society, suggest pregnant and lactating women take in between 600 to 1500 international units of vitamin D daily to maintain consistent blood levels above 30 ng/mL. Scientific research has revealed dosages up to 4000IU/day and higher is safe during pregnancy.