What is Vitamin D?
There are two forms of vitamin D: D2 and D3. Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, is made by plants, and fungi such as mushrooms. Vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, is made by animals, including humans, and both are often referred to as the “parent compound”. It is formed in the skin upon exposure to ultraviolet light exposure. Vitamin D3 is also acquired through dietary supplementation along with vitamin D2. The amount of this supplementation is a source of lingering controversy. Since we are largely a society that avoids sun exposure, the role of dietary supplementation becomes extremely important.
How Vitamin D reduces pregnancy complications?
Vitamin D is beneficial for your own personal health. There is extensive research supporting its role in immune function, healthy cell division, and bone health. It has been well known for its function in maintaining calcium and phosphorus homeostasis and promoting bone mineralization. Many studies are finding a connection between low serum vitamin D levels and an increased risk of certain types of cancers, autoimmune disease, neurological disease, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin D invests in the well-being of your baby by supporting healthy bone development. A deficiency with vitamin D is also related to preeclampsia.
Related Article: Preventing Gestational Diabetes
Does my prenatal have enough Vitamin D?
It is unlikely your prenatal vitamin provides enough vitamin D. A recent study found women taking 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily had the greatest benefits in preventing preterm labor/births and infections.
The study confirmed vitamin D at this level is not only safe for you, but for your baby, and the researchers from this study now recommend this daily dosage of vitamin D for all pregnant women. The average prenatal vitamin only contains 400 IU of vitamin D, so additional supplementation should be taken daily.
Several recent studies with larger patient samples suggest that both milk consumption and vitamin D intake are predictors of infant size. One study showed that, for every cup of milk consumed per day by the mother, there is an associated increase in infant birthweight of 41 g and that every microgram of daily vitamin D intake correlates with an increased birth-weight of 11 g.
Vitamin D Reduces the Risk of Health Complications
Current evidence suggests that vitamin D supplements may be effective in preventing rickets, particularly for infants and children who may be at higher risk due to limited sun exposure or those with darker skin pigmentation, however further research is needed before specific recommendations can be made.
In one study investigating children aged three to 36 months, those receiving 400 International Units of vitamin D per day for 12 months were less likely to develop rickets than those receiving no treatment. In another study with children aged six to 30 months, the group consuming vitamin D 300 IU/day and calcium 378 mg/day, and parental nutrition counseling were also less likely to develop rickets than those receiving no treatment.
There is a very short list of foods that contain vitamin D. Vitamin D is in both animal and plant products. Their levels in the body are also affected by exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency is common during pregnancy and carries the risk of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. Therefore, supplementation is recommended to decrease the risk of pre-eclampsia, low birth weight, and pre-term delivery. The foods containing a significant amount of vitamin D are egg yolk, salmon and cod liver oil, however, most vitamin D is consumed through fortified foods like milk in the absence of lactose intolerant. So, if you are lactose intolerant, fortified milk products are out of the equation.
Additionally, many factors influence the body’s ability to make and absorb vitamin D. These factors include: where you live, the season, how much time you spend outdoors without sunscreen, skin pigmentation, age, obesity, pollution, and having healthy intestines with optimal absorption capacity.
Vitamin D and Post-pregnancy Guidelines and Suggestions
Pregnancy represents a time of immense change, which includes changes in physical proportions, physiology and responsibility. Arguably, nothing during these times changes more than the requirement and metabolism of vitamin D.
Related Article: Maternal Nutritional Requirements for Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
What steps can you take to get vitamin D?
The first step is to simply consume food containing vitamin D. Next, according to research is practical sun exposure ranging from 5-10 minutes while you have the arms and legs, or the hands, arms, and face exposed 3 times per week. However, the best way to really ensure adequate vitamin D is through simple supplementation. When supplementing, your choices will be between two forms of vitamin D. Ergocalciferol is the vegetarian form of vitamin D. Cholecalciferol is the animal-sourced form. It is derived from fish liver oil or lanolin from sheep.
The cholecalciferol form is the most absorbable and utilized form for the body. If you are vegan you should choose ergocalciferol.
Adapted from Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and lactation. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2010.
Mulligan et al. Implications of vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and lactation. 2010