Vitamin D is a very important vitamin for the baby's mother and baby. Mothers need to ensure their vitamin D levels are normal during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
But first, what actually is vitamin D? It is a vitamin that is formed mainly in the skin and then altered in the body to a more active component. Most importantly, it is needed in every cell for the body to function properly!
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, 90% of vitamin D is made from sunlight exposure directly onto the skin. Women who do not get enough sun are observed to have low levels of vitamin D. The darker your skin, the more sun exposure one needs! So mothers need to expose themselves to sun to prevent getting low levels of Vitamin D or take a vitamin D supplementation.
Apart from that, a normal level of vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium from food. Calcium, which is vital for building strong bones, strong teeth and is important for the nervous system. Adequate levels are important for the immune system to work properly.
A recent study found that 1,500 to 2000IU of vitamin D daily had the greatest benefits in preventing preterm labour/births and infections. (1)
What happens if you don't?
Vitamin D deficiency is common during pregnancy. A newborn baby's vitamin D level is the same as its mother. If the mother has a low vitamin D level during pregnancy, then her baby too will be born with a low vitamin D level. There will be very little vitamin D contain in breast milk, so if the baby is vitamin D deficient, they will remain deficient while being breastfed. Because Vitamin D deficiency symptoms are generally less obvious, one might think they have sufficient amounts until getting a blood test!
Low levels of Vitamin D in children and adults have also been linked to the development of many illnesses.
Inadequate vitamin D can lead to abnormal bone growth, fractures or rickets in newborns! Because the bones don't form normally, the child can be short and the legs bowed. At times, when the calcium level in the blood is very low, it will lead to the child having seizures(fits). If you think this is 'kind of' rare, check out Dr Rangan Chatterjee's story on how his son had seizure because of being deficient in this simple vitamin. (2)
Vitamin D from food consumption alone is not enough!
Only 10% of food contain vitamin D naturally, so a lot are fortified with this vitamin. All milk are vitamin D fortified. The best way to really ensure adequate vitamin D is through supplementation.
1. Dawodu A, Akinbi H. Vitamin D nutrition in pregnancy: current opinion. International Journal of Women’s Health. 2013;5:333-343. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S34032.
Dr Nicole Ng (MBBS) is a medical doctor with a passion in women's health and medical research