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Vitamin D in pregnancy

Vitamin D in pregnancy


Putting the D in development

Vitamin D is a key nutrient during pregnancy, due to its role in supporting your baby’s developing bones. It is only available from a few foods – summer sunshine is the main natural source. However, that’s not always easy to get. Learn how to ensure you get your daily requirement all year round to help build the bones that will support your baby through life.

Vitamin D helps to support:
Normal bone development

Vitamin D – an essential supporting role in pregnancy

Your baby’s bones grow and form at a rapid rate throughout pregnancy. Vitamin D is a key part of this fascinating and complex process, due to its role in regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients are vital for your baby’s developing bones and help to build strong, healthy teeth1.

Your baby’s vitamin D levels at birth depend on your own intake throughout pregnancy2. So, as a mum-to-be, you can support your baby’s bones and future health by ensuring you get your recommended daily amount.

“The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for vitamin D during pregnancy and while breastfeeding is 10mcg per day, best taken as a supplement.”3

Your daily dose of D

The most effective source of vitamin D is sunlight: the body produces it in response to UVB rays on the skin2.

However, the latitude of the UK means the rays are only strong enough during the summer months. Even then, your exposure is likely to be patchy, with various factors at play, including cloud cover, the use of sunscreen, the time of day you go outside, the natural pigmentation of your skin and the coverage you get from your clothes. From October until April, the body relies on any reserves left over from the summer and once these have been used up, other sources are required to maintain an adequate supply2.

A few foods provide vitamin D, but these are limited. Oily fish, egg yolks and fortified foods are among the few dietary sources. In the UK many people find it difficult to get significant amounts from food alone2.

Because of this, it’s recommended that all pregnant and breastfeeding women take a vitamin D supplement of 10mcg per day. This amount will provide enough for your own needs and help to build the stores your baby needs for the first 6 months of life3.

D deficiency – what and who?

A lack of vitamin D, known as vitamin D deficiency, can result in tiredness and aches and pains2. In babies and children, extreme vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets, a condition characterised by soft bones that don’t develop as they should. A lack of vitamin D has also been linked to long-term conditions such as osteoporosis and diabetes, and other serious diseases4.

"Supplementary sources of vitamin D are recommended to build the stores your baby needs for the first 6 months of life"

All women who are pregnant or breastfeeding have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency and need to pay special attention to getting adequate levels4. Taking a daily supplement protects your own health, as well as your baby’s.

If you have dark skin, your increased pigment affects your skin’s ability to generate vitamin D4, making a daily supplement even more important. Women of South Asian, African, Caribbean and Middle Eastern descent who live in the UK are particularly at risk2.

IU is a measurement of sun exposure. The table below allows you to compare the vitamin D found in food to sun exposure. 5-10 minutes in the sun is equal to 3000IU, this would be the equivalent of eating three portions of fresh salmon5.

*3.5oz of meat or fish is one portion, approximately the size of your palm.

Certain breakfast cereals and dairy products are fortified with vitamin D

Next Steps

Are you are taking a prenatal multivitamin? If so, check that it contains 10mcg of vitamin D. If not, talk to your midwife about taking a separate supplement.

If you are on a lower income, you may qualify for free supplements as part of the Healthy Start initiative. Ask your doctor for more details.

View references

Hide references

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1. NHS UK. Vitamin supplements in pregnancy [Online]. 2013. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

2. NHS UK. How to get vitamin D from sunlight [Online]. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

3. NHS UK. Vitamin D [Online]. 2012. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

4. SACN. Update on Vitamin D [Online]. Available at: p.37 [Accessed June 2014]

5. Holick MF. Vitamin D deficiency. N Engl J Med 2007;357(3):266-281.

Last reviewed: 18th August 2014

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