If you're like me, you probably have a family member, a friend, or a colleague who has suffered a miscarriage or has had complications during pregnancy. Beyonce has spoken about developing a condition called preeclampsia that causes high blood pressure while pregnant with her twins. No one is exempt. While several factors impact pregnancy outcomes, vitamin D status is worth some attention.
Vitamin D is generally considered a vitamin, but it is actually a hormone produced by the body from skin exposure to ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays from the sun. Some benefits of Vitamin D include increased absorption of calcium and phosphorus for bone health, reduced cancer risk, immunity support, and improved pregnancy outcomes.
How Vitamin D Supports Pregnancy
Vitamin D is well known for its role in bone health. It is no surprise that it facilitates the baby's skeletal development.1 This is the most crucial role of vitamin D. Other essential functions include:
Controlling the immune system and preventing inflammation.
Stimulates the placenta to release antimicrobial amino acids. Amino acids are the molecules that form proteins.
It helps uterine lining adaptations to create an ideal environment for the baby.
Production and regulation of hormones such as progesterone and estradiol.
Why Does This Matter?
Several studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency is associated with adverse maternal and fetal outcomes, such as gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), preeclampsia, small for gestational age (SGA), and preterm births.
Additionally, vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in pregnant women. Data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001–2010 showed that 44% of Black people in the U.S. are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D levels of darker-skinned pregnant women are lower than those with lighter skin. People with darker skin tones have more of the pigment called melanin in their skin. Increased melanin makes it difficult for the skin to use sunlight to produce vitamin D, increasing the risk of deficiency.2 What's more, Black women are at greater risk of complications during pregnancy than White women or Hispanic women.3
What Can You Do?
It is recommended that all pregnant women take 4000 IUs a day to prevent complications during pregnancy. The optimal vitamin D level should be 40 nd/ml or more.4 Ways to add vitamin D to your diet:
Eat foods high in vitamin D.
Animal sources: salmon, sardines, dairy, egg yolk, beef liver
Fortified foods: orange juice, cereals, and non-dairy milk
Spending some time in the sun helps the body produce vitamin D. People with darker skin tones need a little more than 30 minutes a day.
Pregnant Black women are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, leading to complications during pregnancy. Raise your vitamin D levels by getting sunlight in the summer months, taking vitamin D supplements, and including foods rich in vitamin D in your diet.
Agarwal S, Kovilam O, Agrawal DK. Vitamin D and its impact on maternal-fetal outcomes in pregnancy: A critical review. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6056893/#R42. Published March 24, 2018. Accessed March 14, 2022.
Mulligan ML, Felton SK, Riek AE, Bernal-Mizrachi C. Implications of vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and lactation. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3540805/. Published May 2010. Accessed March 29, 2022.
Ames BN, Grant WB, Willett WC. Does the high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in African Americans contribute to health disparities? Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7913332/. Published February 3, 2021. Accessed March 12, 2022.
Hollis BW, Wagner CL. New insights into the Vitamin D requirements during pregnancy. Nature News. https://www.nature.com/articles/boneres201730. Published August 29, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2022.