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Are Vitamin D Supplements Necessary in Pregnancy?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Vitamin D Supplementation is Beneficial

Did you knnow that many pregnant women have a vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D supplementation is recommended in pregnancy. There are known pregnancy complications with low vitamin D levels, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, premature delivery and small babies.

Also, mothers who take supplemental vitamin D during pregnancy will have children with better bone mineral density as they grow.

Recommended daily dose for vitamin D is 600 IU, which can be found in most but not all prenatal vitamins. Treatment doses up to 1000 to 2000 units’ of vitamin D per day are safe.

Recent Vitamin D Study

Recent studies conducted in the U.K. suggest that mothers who take supplemental vitamin D while pregnant are more likely to have children with higher bone mineral content as they age. The study measured bone mineral density or BMD in 9-year old children whose mothers supplemented with vitamin D throughout their pregnancy.

More vitamin D equates to better bone strength and a reduced risk for bone fractures resulting from bone thinning or weakening diseases like osteoporosis. The study appearing in a recent issue of the Lancet suggests that it is vital that women receive enough vitamin D to ensure the health and well-being of their children's bones later in life.

The Role of Vitamin D and Your Health

Most people assume that calcium is the most important vitamin or nutrient for bone health. Realistically speaking however, vitamin D is just as important. Found in common foods like egg yolks, certain fishes, liver and fortified foods including milk, vitamin D works in combination with other vitamins and minerals to ensure healthy bone growth. Vitamin D helps the body absorb valuable nutrients like calcium and phosphorus.

Researchers discovered that many pregnant women have a vitamin D deficiency, as do the elderly. The study published in the Lancet suggests that early postnatal development and intrauterine development contribute to a person's overall bone mineral accrual later in life. This in turn may influence their risk of osteoporosis.

Pregnancy Health Section

Vitamin D Deficiencies

People can get Vitamin D by exposure to direct sunlight. Typically most people will receive enough vitamin D simply through routine exposure, however recent skin cancer concerns are causing people to cover up (rightly so) under the sun. This can reduce the vitamin D the skin produces resulting from sun exposure.

Hence, those with light colored skin may be more at risk for deficiencies. They often apply sunscreen to protect from skin cancer. The sun ultimately provides one source of vitamin D however; hence this population may be more at risk for shortages. Others simply don't eat enough of vitamin D rich or fortified foods. Studies also confirm that most people do not get enough vitamin D from their diet alone.

The study conducted of pregnant women included more than 150 women delivering babies in the early 90s. The researchers used blood tests to find out the levels of vitamin D in pregnant women. The study revealed that nearly 31% of women had a slight vitamin D deficiency while 18% had a significant vitamin D deficiency.

The researchers followed the infants into early childhood. By age nine the children received BMD scans, revealing that children whose mothers had vitamin D deficiencies during pregnancy had less BMD than those whose mothers had enough vitamin D circulating in their system while pregnant.

Are Vitamin D Supplements Necessary?

The researchers stressed how important satisfactory vitamin D intake is during pregnancy. The studies suggest that vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy may result in stronger bones in children later in life.

The study suggests that more long-term studies are necessary to assess the role vitamin D plays in bone development and growth of children while in utero. Women who enjoy their last trimester during winter months may be more at risk for vitamin D deficiencies, in part due to less exposure to sunlight and lower than average levels of sunlight. These women may need vitamin D supplements to promote healthy bone development in their babies.

Vitamin D supplementation is not only good for babies, but also good for their mothers. Check with your doctor to ensure that you are receiving enough vitamin D supplementation during your pregnancy. Your health and that of your unborn baby may depend on it!

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