Vitamin D is not a “true” vitamin because it can be synthesized through the skin. It is actually a steroid hormone – group of fat-soluble pro-hormones – that encourage the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D is also important for facilitating normal immune system function, as well as the normal growth and development of teeth and bones.
Requirements for vitamin D are high at certain stages of the lifecycle, especially during infancy and pregnancy. It is essential to bone health, though recent studies suggest that it contributes to human health beyond the skeletal system.
Importance of Vitamin D in Pregnancy
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are a critical time for both the mother and child; when the mother is giving her infant all the building blocks that he/she needs to build a foundation for future cardiovascular health, bone health, glucose metabolism, immune function, brain development, and the prevention of brain disorders.
So, what does vitamin D have to do with it?
The human body synthesizes vitamin D when you expose your skin to optimal sunlight, consume fatty-fish or vitamin D fortified foods, or take quality vitamin D3 supplements.
The female reproductive system consists of billions of cells, each of which contains genetic codes and a receptor for vitamin D. These cells, including the breasts, vagina, decidua, placenta, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries are chock-full with vitamin D receptors.
When you have sufficient amounts of vitamin D in your cells, the vitamin D binds with its receptor, regulating genes in your reproductive system. For instance, vitamin D pathway genes influence in utero fetal development. On the other hand, when the female system has insufficient activated vitamin D, the genes critical to complete fetal health and smooth pregnancy are not articulated.
Importance of Vitamin D for the Mother
Pregnant women with sufficient vitamin D intake can enjoy reduced risk of pregnancy complications, such as:
- gestational diabetes mellitus
- preterm birth
- Caesarian section
Unfortunately, many pregnant women have insufficient vitamin D blood serum levels.
According to recent findings in a 2014 Canadian study, low maternal vitamin D is associated with increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. So, vitamin D supplementation is critical to optimize maternal and neonatal vitamin D levels.
Other studies suggest that maternal vitamin D helps to decrease labor pain, while ensuring that the baby gets enough vitamin D during breastfeeding.
Importance of Vitamin D for the Baby
Vitamin D is important for fetal cell and bone development. Medical studies have revealed that some seeds for disease are sown before birth, and insufficient vitamin D during pregnancy may be one of those seeds. So, children born to mothers with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to develop certain medical conditions, including soft bones (rickets or craniotabes), cardiovascular malformation, asthma, autism, and type 1 diabetes mellitus.
The important role of vitamin D for the health of mothers and babies cannot be overstated. Besides getting vitamin D from 10 minutes of sunlight and certain foods like sardines, salmon, shrimp, egg yolk, and fortified foods, you can also get it from supplementation to reach the daily intake recommendation of 6,000 IU for pregnant and breastfeeding women (IU – international units – per day), as per the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) reports.