Find out why getting enough vitamin D while you're pregnant is important for the health of you and your baby.
Why do I need vitamin D?
Vitamin D forms an essential part of your diet as it helps to manage the levels of calcium in your body. As calcium keeps your teeth and bones strong and healthy, it's vital for growth and development. Research has also suggested that Vitamin D can help to fight off infections and may reduce the risk of some cancers, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis (a neurological disorder).
Therefore it is doubly important to get enough vitamin D when you are pregnant, to ensure the natural and healthy development of your unborn baby.
Getting enough vitamin D when you are pregnant can have a very real effect on the development of your baby's bones, both in the womb and as he or she grows through childhood. It's believed to have many long-term benefits for your child, helping them to absorb calcium as they grow which will keep them strong and healthy.
Low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy can put your baby at risk of developing rickets when he or she is born. This is a condition which involves a softening of the bones leading them to break or bend.
How can I make sure I'm getting enough vitamin D?
You can get vitamin D from two main sources: by being exposed to sunlight and by incorporating the right foods into your diet.
When we are exposed to sunlight our bodies make vitamin D, which is the main way in which most of us maintain the right levels of vitamin D and calcium. Our bodies even have the capacity to store vitamin D, which is how we have enough to last through the winter when the days are shorter.
By making sure that you spend a little time outdoors each day, even when the sun isn't shining, your body can absorb sunlight to make enough vitamin D for you and your baby.
Foods that are rich in vitamin D include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. By eating these kinds of food 2 or 3 times a week, you should be able to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D in your diet.
A number of other foods including some margarines and breakfast cereals are fortified with Vitamin D and these can provide a good source for those that don't eat fish. Red meat and egg yolk also contain some vitamin D - but the levels you'll find in these are lower than what you'll find in oily fish.
By eating a balanced diet with a variety of nutritious foods, you should be able to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D for you and your baby.
Should I take a supplement?
You may choose to take a vitamin D supplement to complement your diet, though this isn't always necessary. The Department of Health currently recommend that pregnant women take 10mcg (micrograms) of vitamin D a day and to continue this while breastfeeding.
However, this may not be necessary for you if you are already getting enough vitamin D through sunlight exposure and by eating the right foods, so check with your doctor before beginning a course of supplements. It is possible to have too much vitamin D, so it's important to get the right balance.
Most multivitamin tablets contain vitamin D, and some combine the recommended 10mcg dosage with calcium, so these may be a good idea - but always check on the back of the pack that they are suitable for pregnancy.