We sat down with Lisa Bodnar, PhD, MPH, RD, associate professor of Epidemiology, Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, and Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and School of Medicine and member of the Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation, to discuss the possible connections between vitamin D and prenatal vitamins for pregnancy. More and more women are aware of the benefits of prenatal vitamins and typically look to bolster their intake of folic acid and iron to encourage a healthy pregnancy. However, many expectant mothers may be overlooking the benefits of vitamin D as a supplement during pregnancy.
“There is a growing number of epidemiologic studies that have shown women with vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy are more likely to go on to deliver preterm, develop preeclampsia, or have a baby that is too small given its gestational age,” Dr. Bodnar says.
Research and studies are still in their very early stages. “No large trials of vitamin D supplements have been conducted to test whether vitamin D supplements prevent these poor pregnancy outcomes,” Dr. Bodnar says. “Vitamin D is needed for many other processes in the body and we suspect it plays a role in pregnancy, but until some large trials have been done, we cannot say anything else with terrible certainty,” she says. While the benefit of an excess amount of vitamin D is still not verified, the importance of sufficient vitamin D levels in pregnant women is known. “Being sufficient in vitamin D is known to promote healthy skeletal development in the fetus and ensure bone health for the mother,” Dr. Bodnar says.
It is important for pregnant women to take in the recommended 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D each day. Because most of our vitamin D is received through exposure to the sunlight, where you live can play a big role in how much vitamin D your body receives. According to Dr. Bodnar, “In northern cities like Pittsburgh from about November to March, we cannot make adequate vitamin D from the sun, so this is when the oral intake of vitamin D through supplements and diet becomes so important.”
Some suggestions for increasing vitamin D without sunlight include taking prenatal vitamins for pregnancy or focusing your diet more on foods rich in vitamin D, including fortified dairy products, fortified cereal, eggs, mushrooms, and fatty fish such as salmon.
For more information on how to have a healthy pregnancy, visit the Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC website or call 1-866-MyMagee (6962433).