Vitamin D is a hot topic for pregnancy research. Studies have linked low stores of this vitamin (which acts like a hormone) with a variety of pregnancy complications including preterm birth and gestational diabetes. Many American women have low-to-borderline vitamin D stores and while supplements are available and some foods are rich in D, the sun is the most efficient, “natural” way to get levels up. But the medical recommendation is to wear sunscreen or avoid lots of direct sun exposure.
The latest study–published in Pediatrics this month–looking at the impact of low Vitamin D on pregnancy, connects the vitamin to baby brain development.
Researchers measured vitamin D levels of nearly 2000 women about mid-way through pregnancy, then assessed mental development and psycho-motor skills of their 14 months-old babies. They found that babies of mothers with optimal levels of vitamin D during pregnancy, scored slightly higher than babies of mothers who were D deficient. The researchers found the differences between individual babies to be so small as to not matter much except when you add up how many woman are vitamin D deficient during pregnancy.
“This study is really going to open the door for those of us who have been advocating a stronger stance on vitamin D recommendations for pregnancy and pre-pregnancy,” said Valencia Walker, MD, a neonatologist who reviewed the study for WebMD. “This study helps prove that D matters, and that pregnant women should not be vitamin D deficient.”
Those highest risk for vitamin D deficiency include women who are:
- overweight or obese
- from lower socioeconomic backgrounds
- with darker skin (especially those living in cold climates.)
Prenatal vitamins provide 400 IU of vitamin D but there’s not enough evidence to show whether supplementation helps.
More research has to be done. But in the mean time it seems most experts are emphasizing, as always, a well-rounded diet and healthy lifestyle.
In the old days women (and babies!) used to take “sun baths” in the morning. I’m pretty sure that’s where sun-bathing comes from. But this was a brisk walk in the early sun, not tanning, per se.
I’m always interested to follow the research into vitamin D as it’s been associated with other problems in pregnancy and also because I always feel so much better when I get some sun! (Dr. Christiane Northrup, “Of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Lives,” and “The Wisdom of Menopause” has long advocated the brisk walk in the sun. She says make sure to have maximum skin exposure when you get sun– you don’t want the sun hitting just your face. The more skin exposed the briefer the sun bath. Very pale women do well with a few minutes a day, darker skin women need longer exposure.
What have you heard about vitamin D? Has your doctor or midwife mentioned it? Do you get any exposure to the sun?
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