WHAT IS VITAMIN D?
Vitamin D is an important nutrient that your skin produces naturally in response to sunlight and through certain foods. It plays an essential role in calcium and phosphorus metabolism, bone growth and mineralization. In simpler terms, Vitamin D helps your body effectively absorb calcium, which helps build strong bones. Vitamin D also plays a role in maintaining the immune system, and helps maintain healthy skin.
IMPORTANCE OF VITAMIN D DURING PREGNANCY
During pregnancy, Vitamin D also helps develop your baby’s bones. Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can affect the amount of calcium your baby has in their bones. In fact, it has been found that babies with low Vitamin D levels are caused by their mother’s Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy.
In severe deficiency, a bone deformity called rickets can occur. Research has shown that Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy may be associated several health problems including hypertension, pre-eclampsia, increased primary caesarean rates, seizures and reduced intrauterine long bone growth. Therefore, it is essential for pregnant women to have sufficient Vitamin D throughout their pregnancy, so that it can decrease the risk of having health problems in both themselves and their baby.
HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED?
For pregnant women, it is vital that your Vitamin D levels are above 5.0 µg/day.
Sources of Vitamin D
There are two main sources of Vitamin D – Sunlight and Diet
Skin exposure to sunlight contributes to about 90% of your daily Vitamin D requirement. How do we know we are getting enough sunlight? It is recommended to have whole body exposure to 10 to 15 minutes per day of midday sun in the summer. This also means that pregnant women with moderately fair skin will need to expose their hands, face and arms (~15% of body surface) to the sun until a faint redness on the skin appears. Darker skinned women will require about 3 to 6 times longer the exposure, so that would mean being exposed to sunlight for about 15 to 60 minutes per day.
Your diet contributes to the other 10% of your daily Vitamin D requirement. Food sources that are high in Vitamin D include oily fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines. Other sources include dairy products and eggs. In Australia, we are extremely lucky to have some of our breakfast cereals, spreads and dairy products fortified with Vitamin D.
SO WHAT ARE THE CURRENT RECOMMENDATIONS?
The Australian Eat for Health Guide recommends pregnant women consume:
- 2 serves of oily fish per week
- 1 serve of eggs (2 large whole eggs) per day (this is included in the 3 ½ serves of lean meats/poultry, fish, eggs food group)
- 2 ½ serves of dairy products per day.
A serve of oily fish = 100g of cooked salmon/tuna/herring/mackerel OR 1 small can of tuna/sardines
A serve of dairy products = 1 cup (250ml) milk OR 1 tub (200g) yoghurt OR 2 slices of hard cheese
Vitamin D is so important because it helps your body absorb calcium, which also helps keep your bones strong and healthy. It also plays an important role in supporting your immune system. With winter on its way and shorter days, it is even more paramount to ensure we maintain good Vitamin D levels.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
The best way to ensure good Vitamin D levels during pregnancy is by having enough sunlight and eating foods rich in Vitamin D. Think of fun ways of spending time in the sun, such as exercising outdoors (if you can) or taking a morning stroll with your partner or your pet while enjoying the sun.
If you think you are not able to get sufficient Vitamin D, and may require Vitamin D supplementation, speak to your GP soon. And, if you require more individualised nutritional advice, get in touch with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian as we can provide the help you need to support you through your pregnancy journey.
We’ve also created our Top 5 Tips for Good Nutrition During pregnancy for you to download! http://www.sustainable-nutrition.com.au/fertility-and-pregnancy/