Vitamin D helps calcium and phosphorus get absorbed into the body. It also helps give you strong bones. It’s not found in many foods, but is added to some foods in the United States. The most natural way to get Vitamin D is through your skin, in direct sunlight.

When you’re pregnant, you need make sure you get enough vitamins and nutrients for both you and your baby’s growing needs. Here’s a look at whether or not you’ll need more vitamin D and when during pregnancy.

Is vitamin D important during pregnancy?

Vitamin D should be included as part of a healthy pregnancy diet. Your bones and body need it. Also, your baby will need it to grow strong, healthy bones. Continue to make sure you are getting enough vitamin D if you’re breast-feeding.

It’s recommended that pregnant women get 600 IUs (international units) of vitamin D each day. This is the same amount recommended for anyone under the age of 70.

Your doctor may recommend that you increase that amount in the second or third trimester, depending on special circumstances or what your baseline levels are.

In addition to getting vitamin D from the sun and supplements, you may want to try eating foods that contain it or are supplemented with it.

Here’s a look at the amount of vitamin D found in some foods:

  • 447 IUs in sockeye salmon (3 ounces)
  • 154 IUs in canned tuna in water (3 ounces)
  • 115 to 124 IUs in 1 cup of vitamin D fortified milk
  • 41 IUs in the yolk of 1 large egg
  • 6 IUs in 1 ounce of Swiss cheese

You can take a quality supplement if you’re unable to get enough vitamin D from the foods you eat during pregnancy. If you are at risk for low vitamin D levels, your doctor may check the level of vitamin D in your blood for a baseline.

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a hormone that your body can create when sunlight hits your skin. It does this through a process that uses cholesterol. It is initially an inactive form of vitamin D, but it becomes active after passing through the liver. Some people, especially those who use sunscreen to prevent skin cancer or those with darker skin tone, likely don’t get enough from the sun alone. The part of the world you live in can also make a difference in how much vitamin D you can get from the sun.

You will most likely need to take a supplement to get enough vitamin D into your diet.

Health benefits of vitamin D

Vitamin D, when taken at the proper dose, can help with more than just growing strong bones.

It may also help:

  • build strong muscles
  • prevent heart disease
  • prevent colon and other cancers
  • possibly reduce the risk of diabetes
  • boost your immune system to prevent colds, the flu, and other illnesses

Precautions for taking vitamin D

While it’s a necessary vitamin for good health, it’s possible for you to take too much vitamin D. There’s a possibility that a very high dose of vitamin D supplements can increase the risk of fractures in older women. But more studies are needed to confirm this.

At the same time, you don’t want to have a vitamin D deficiency. Too little vitamin D could lead to a number of complications. Research is still being done, but some of the complications from chronic vitamin D deficiency include:

  • brittle bones
  • an increase in autoimmune complications
  • an effect on the control of multiple sclerosis

For these reasons, you should always take the recommended dosage. During pregnancy, be sure to take the vitamin D supplement amount your doctor recommends.

Foods containing vitamin D

In the United States, vitamin D is sometimes added to milk and orange juice. But there are other foods that can help you get more vitamin D. The best sources for vitamin D are fish like salmon and tuna.

Fish oil and mushrooms can also be good sources. It’s found in egg yolks and cheese, but in smaller amounts.

Other foods that are usually fortified with vitamin D include:

  • yogurt
  • some breakfast cereals
  • some margarines

Next steps  

Vitamin D is a necessary part of a healthy diet any time. But it’s more important if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding. The amount you’ll need depends on many factors, including where you live, the time of year, and any medical conditions you have.

Ask your doctor for the correct amount of vitamin D you’ll need during your pregnancy. Then, in order to get the correct amount, you’ll most likely need a combination of vitamin D-rich foods and a supplement. 

Q:

Do pregnant women need to continue taking a vitamin D supplement during the second and third trimester?

A:

Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy, and the amount of supplementation, is a somewhat controversial topic. The 2010 Institute of Medicine report suggests 600 IU of vitamin D for all reproductive-age women, including pregnant women, based on prior information. However, the benefits of supplementation are still being studied.

University of Illinois-Chicago, College of MedicineAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.