How important is vitamin D during pregnancy? We take a closer look

We look at the importance of vitamin D during pregnancy, and at ground-breaking new research that aims to find out more about the role of the vitamin and what it means for mothers and babies

Vitamin D, otherwise known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, is thought to be one of the most important vitamins for our bodies, to help to maintain normal bones, normal muscle function and a normal immune system plus it has a role in cell division. Vitamin D is also featuring in more and more interesting research, around a variety of health concerns.

Did you know that it’s estimated that up to a quarter of all people in the UK have low levels of vitamin D in their body, which means they are at risk of deficiency? This deficiency impairs the way calcium is absorbed into bones, and may potentially lead to childhood rickets, and bone pain or tenderness in adults.

Vitamin D deficiency is common in many people throughout the world, but particularly in pregnant women.

How do I get enough vitamin D, especially during pregnancy?

Vitamin D occurs naturally in a few foods such as oily fish, mushrooms and eggs. However, it is difficult to get enough vitamin D through food alone. The best source of vitamin D is summer sunlight on our skin, however, as well as the importance of keeping skin safe in the sun, it is hard to maintain this during the gloomy winter months.

The UK Department of Health recommends that everyone should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement, this includes pregnant women, breastfeeding mums and children, particularly between October and March.

What role does vitamin D play in pregnancy?

For the first time, doctors are researching the role of vitamin D during pregnancy and what this means for the mother and baby. The research is supported by Wellbeing of Women, the medical research charity for women and children.

A new study by Dr Jennifer Tamblyn, at the University of Birmingham, has discovered that as well as helping to support healthy bones of the mother and developing baby, vitamin D plays an important role in keeping the placenta healthy, which is crucial since it supplies the baby with vital nutrients.

The study has shown that immune cells in the placenta respond to the vitamin D and where there is a deficiency, the placenta doesn't function properly.

When the placenta isn't working effectively women can experience complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage and premature birth, leading to the suggestion that a simple vitamin D supplement could be as important as taking folic acid for the health of the baby.

Professor Martin Hewison who oversaw the latest vitamin D work said: " This is unique research. For the first, we are focusing on how important Vitamin D is for the health of the mother and baby by establishing the important role it plays in controlling the function of the placenta. We knew that taking Vitamin D in later pregnancy was important for the development of the foetal skeleton, but we now believe taking vitamin D supplements very early in pregnancy, or possibly even before conception, could help protect against pre-eclampsia and possibly other pregnancy complications, such as growth restriction and even miscarriage."

To help support this important research into the role of vitamin D during pregnancy, Pregnacare is partnering with Wellbeing of Women in their mission, by funding medical research to find better cures and treatments, aiming to help save and improve the lives of women and babies. With this vital support Wellbeing of Women can also invest in further research projects that will enable more women to have healthy pregnancies, fight gynaecological cancers and enjoy a better quality of life.

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Alexandra Phillips

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