The sunshine vitamin: Vitamin D in pregnancy

By Annemarie Aburrow RD

Vitamin D is known as the 'sunshine vitamin' because our bodies make most of our requirements from the action of sunlight on our skin. Just 15-20 minutes of sun (without sunscreen) every day between 11am and 3pm in spring and summer provides enough vitamin D for most of the year. Foods and supplements containing vitamin D top up our vitamin levels during the summer, but take on an important role during winter when we're unable to make it from sunlight.

Vitamin D deficiency: the facts

Vitamin D is essential for bone health. It enables the calcium we eat to be absorbed into our bodies. Without vitamin D, we wouldn't absorb enough calcium. Calcium keeps our teeth and bones strong. Vitamin D deficiency can cause tiredness, aches and pain, and can lead to bone deformities and osteoporosis (weak, fragile bones) in later life. Recent research suggests that vitamin D deficiency may also increase the risk of chronic conditions, e.g. heart disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Studies show that Brits have a low intake of vitamin D and that over 20% of women and teenagers are deficient in vitamin D. This is probably due to the British weather patterns, our attitudes towards sun exposure, low oily fish intake and obesity.

The Department of Health recognises that pregnant women are at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, and recommends supplementation.

Why are pregnant women at risk?

Your growing baby needs calcium to form strong bones. During pregnancy, your body adapts by absorbing calcium more efficiently from your diet, to pass to your baby. Vitamin D is needed for this process. If you don't have enough vitamin D, calcium may be taken from your bones to supply your baby, leaving your bone health at risk. You also need to provide your baby with vitamin D stores. This is to ensure your newborn has enough vitamin D for their first few months of life, and to prevent rickets (bone deformities).

Giving your baby the best start

Follow these steps to give your baby the best start and protect your own bone health:

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