Importance of Vitamin D During Pregnancy
When we think of getting enough vitamin D, we often think about our bones. But the role of vitamin D goes so much further than that – it is important for preventing cancers, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and much more.
Plus, it is essential for fertility and healthy pregnancies.
Yet somewhere around 40% to 60% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. Curious what that means?
- Do you have a poor immune system?
- Do you experience bone or muscle pain?
- Do you struggle with mental health conditions like depression?
- Are you tired all the time?
- Do you have a lot of gastrointestinal/stomach troubles?
You may be D deficient, and this could have happened for a wide variety of reasons including:
- Lifestyle: Many years ago, people spent considerably more time in the sun than we do today. Though we now have the knowledge that too much unprotected sun exposure can lead to cancer, we have also prevented any of the necessary sun exposure to give us the vitamin D we need for optimal health
- Skin pigmentation: Those with darker skin do not make as much vitamin D as those with lighter skin
- Obesity: Carrying too much weight can lead to a D deficiency
- Gut health: An unhealthy gut often leads to poor nutrient and vitamin absorption
- Digestive problems: Many people with digestive problems like Crohn’s or Celiac disease do not absorb as much vitamin D as they need to
- Diet: Vegans do not eat the main dietary sources of vitamin D, so they are less likely to be supplemented in that way
Though anyone can benefit from replenishing their bodies with vitamin D, it is absolutely essential that pregnant women (or women who want to become pregnant) make boosting their vitamin D a huge priority.
Let’s go over the ways vitamin D affects fertility, pregnancy, and birth. Then I will leave you with three solutions to increase your vitamin D so you can your baby can be as healthy as can be!
Vitamin D and Fertility
One study at Yale looked at 67 infertile women. 93% of them had a vitamin D deficiency. The researchers found that every single patient with ovulatory disturbances or polycystic ovary syndrome had some sort of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency.
On the flip side, those who have a vitamin D sufficiency are shown to be more likely to become pregnant.
Why is D so important for making a baby?
- Vitamin D plays an important role in creating your reproductive/sexual hormones and helps regulate your cycles for consistent ovulation
- Vitamin D impacts conditions like endometriosis
- Vitamin D even ups the odds that in vitro fertilization will be successful
So if you have been struggling with infertility, this could be a real game changer for you.
Side note: vitamin D deficiency also negatively affects the fertility of men too.
Vitamin D and Pregnancy
There are devastating consequences that come from a D deficiency during pregnancy. Low vitamin D while you are pregnant has been shown to lead to all sorts of problems including:
- Gestational diabetes
- Bacterial vaginosis
- High blood pressure with diabetic pregnancy
- Preterm delivery
- Increased chances of needing a C-section
- Recurrent pregnancy loss
- Postpartum depression
Plus, vitamin D plays an important role in keeping your immune system functioning while you are pregnant to hopefully ward off any illness.
But it is not only you that benefits from the extra vitamin D while pregnant.
When pregnant mothers are low in D, their babies are low in D as well. Once the baby has been delivered, there may still be some ongoing issues with their skeletal system, respiratory system, and even potentially a higher risk of type 1 diabetes.
How To Know If You Are Vitamin D Deficient
By now you are probably nervous about your vitamin D levels. Could this be happening to you? Is your baby being harmed from a lack of vitamin D?
There are actually two vitamin D tests available. Your doctor just needs to draw your blood.
So even if your OBGYN has not requested a blood draw, you can absolutely ask for one. Even women who are not yet trying, but know they will in the future can benefit from this information. It’s never too early to boost that vitamin D.
If you do find out you are deficient, consider asking for extra vitamin D blood tests multiple times throughout your pregnancy to ensure that the steps you are taking have worked.
Then keep in mind that even somebody with adequate levels of vitamin D will still need to make sure they are continually getting adequate vitamin D throughout the entire pregnancy. You are not just supplementing your body anymore – you have the baby’s body too. That means more D than usual.
How To Get More Vitamin D
As you can see by now, you probably need to get more vitamin D.
There are three main ways that women who are trying to get pregnant or pregnant women should be getting more vitamin D. The first is the most important.
1. Go Outside
By far the most effective and essential way to get vitamin D is to simply make your own! We have incredible body systems that actually create just about all the vitamin D we would need. All you have to do is go outside.
To understand exactly how this works, check out this short video explaining how our skin creates vitamin D:
This means the next piece of advice goes against just about everything you’ve been told about the sun: go outside and don’t wear sunscreen.
Of course, this whole idea comes with a big side note: you’re only looking for somewhere between 5 to 15 minutes of daily direct sunshine contact without sunscreen.
Not only is it safe, it’s important.
Almost all of your vitamin D needs come from sunlight exposure. If you are deficient, don’t hide away inside all day. Take a quick walk outside during your work break. Put on your sunscreen a couple minutes after arriving at the pool.
2. Eat Vitamin D Foods
Even though sunshine should be your #1 solution, there are two other ways to boost your vitamin D if you are deficient. First up, diet.
But here’s the problem with vitamin D-rich foods during pregnancy: most of them are fish. In fact, three ounces of salmon has over 400 IU of vitamin D.
There is a big concern about pregnant women consuming too much mercury by eating fish when they are pregnant. But it is actually quite healthy to have a small amount of low-mercury fish.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women get between 2 and 3 servings of fish each week. Keep in mind a serving is only 4 ounces, approximately the size of your palm. Here are some of their “best choices” for fish that are also super high in vitamin D:
- Canned light tuna
- Pacific chub mackerel (NOT king mackerel)
**Note that swordfish is one of the highest in vitamin D, but the FDA recommends avoiding it, as it has some of the highest mercury levels.
Here are some non-fish foods that have vitamin D as well:
3. Take a Vitamin D Supplement
Finally, anyone who is wanting to become pregnant or is already pregnant should probably also be supplementing their vitamin D.
Yet many people are nervous about vitamin D supplements. Since D is fat-soluble, you don’t just urinate out all the extra you don’t need. It sits in your body and can cause problems if you over-do it.
So how much is enough to make sure you and your baby are healthy but not too much to cause damage?
A recent study came to the conclusion that somewhere between 2000 and 4000 IU a day is the suggested safe dose. Compare that too the fact that only 400 IU is the daily recommended amount in general.
Taking this high amount is so important since science shows that taking a low amount of vitamin D may not cut it. One study compared women taking 400 IU and 4,000 IU of vitamin D. Those with the higher amount were less likely to develop all sorts of problems.
Many prenatal vitamins do not come close to having this amount of vitamin D, so you may want to talk to your doctor, midwife, or naturopath about taking an additional vitamin D supplement.
Also, pay attention to what type of vitamin D is in your supplement. Vitamin D2 is a synthetic and may not be nearly as effective. Aim for vitamin D3 (also called cholecalciferol). This is the natural form of vitamin D – just like you would be getting from food sources.
More D = Healthier Pregnancy
You can ask for a blood test to see your vitamin D levels. If you are deficient, talk to your doctor about how much of each vitamin D producing step you should take. If you are very deficient, you may need to do more.
Even if you are not technically deficient, your doctor will probably encourage healthy vitamin D choices to keep you healthy throughout the remainder of your pregnancy.
So here’s the deal:
- Go outside and stay uncovered for a couple minutes
- Enjoy a couple small servings of low-mercury, vitamin D-rich fish each week
- And supplement with vitamin D3
This should knock out any sort of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency so you can have no worries about you or your baby having any detriment.
Then don’t forget that a proper vitamin D level is still extremely important during the breastfeeding phase as well. When your breast milk does not have plenty of vitamin D, your baby may become deficient too.