Why taking vitamin D is important in pregnancy

Public Health England is recommending that people consider taking daily vitamin D supplements throughout the spring and summer as the coronavirus lockdown continues. Tommy’s midwife Kate Marsh explains what this means for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Why are Public Health England making this recommendation?

Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. You can get vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when you are outside. You can also find Vitamin D in some food.

Public Health England is concerned that people could be missing out on the vitamin during the coronavirus pandemic when we are being advised to stay at home more.

There is no evidence that taking Vitamin D reduces the risk of catching or getting ill with coronavirus. But experts do think that it may have benefits during the pandemic and some researchers are doing clinical trials to see if vitamin D helps coronavirus patients.

What does this mean for me?

Taking vitamin D supplements during the summer months is a new recommendation for the average adult. Normally, we are advised to consider taking supplements during the winter months when we may not have access to a lot of direct sunlight.

However, pregnant woman are always recommended to take vitamin D supplements in pregnancy because it helps your baby’s bones, teeth, kidneys, heart and nervous system to develop. 

All pregnant women should take a 10 microgram supplement of vitamin D each day to give your baby enough vitamin D for the first few months of life. Breastfeeding mums should take a vitamin D supplement as well. Do not take more than 100 micrograms of vitamin D a day as it could be harmful.

Midwives should now be discussing the importance of taking vitamin D supplements and eating a healthy, balanced diet with all pregnant women.

If you have Black or Brown skin or you always cover your skin when you are outside, you may be at particular risk of vitamin D insufficiency. Public Health England says that you should consider taking a vitamin D supplement every day all year.

Where can I get vitamin D supplements?

Vitamin D supplements are widely available from supermarkets and chemists. You can take these on their own or as part of a pregnancy multivitamin.

Healthy Start

Healthy Start is a UK-wide scheme that provides free vitamins, including folic acid. You also get free weekly vouchers for milk, plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables and infant formula milk.

You qualify if you are on benefits and:

  • you are at least 10 weeks pregnant
  • have children under the age of four

All pregnant women under the age of 18 qualify – whether they are on benefits or not. To find out more and apply visit Healthy Start or call 0345 607 6823

Just try not buy more than you need to help keep supplies of supplements available for everyone.

Are there any other ways to increase my vitamin D?

Vitamin D is found naturally in some foods and we also get vitamin D from sunlight. Luckily, we are having some sunny weather at the moment and 15 minutes a day in the sun, two or three times a week, should be enough. You only need to expose your arms and face to get what you need.

Also, remember to stay sun safe. You cannot overdose on vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, but you can burn your skin. If you’re spending a lot of time outside, make sure you use sunscreen.

What foods have vitamin D? 

Vitamin D-rich foods include eggs, oily fish (such as salmon and sardines). Some breakfast cereals, margarines and yoghurts are fortified with vitamin D, too.

As always, be aware that some foods should be avoided in pregnancy. For example, liver is rich in vitamin D, but you should not eat this while you’re pregnant. 

It is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone, so the best thing to do is try to eat a healthy, balanced diet as best you can during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. You can also try to take exercise outside in the sun when possible and safe to do so.

Does my baby need vitamin D?

Breastfed babies from birth to 1 year of age should be given a daily supplement of 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D to make sure they get enough.

Formula-fed babies should not be given a supplement until they are having less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day because formula contains vitamin D. The same rule applies if you are combine feeding.

Talk to your midwife or health visitor about giving your baby vitamin D.