Vitamin D is important for maintenance of healthy muscles and strong bones. It assists the body in controlling the absorption of calcium and phosphate where they are needed. If vitamin D levels are too low, these minerals may become deficient in the blood, causing them to be released from the bones, which can lead to bone softening and weakening.
Vitamin D levels are not only important for you, they are also important for your growing baby. Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy is associated with reduced bone strength in childhood, and in severe cases, neonatal rickets.
Rickets is an early childhood disorder, which causes softening of the bones, impaired growth, dental deformities and reduced muscle strength. Rickets is rare in Australia, however lately the disease has been once again on the incline. Higher risk groups include people with dark skin, people who experience minimal exposure to the sun due to clothing cover or strenuous sun protection and people on diets low in vitamin D (a dairy-free diet, for example). Others may have an underlying condition which affects their vitamin D levels, such as liver or kidney disease.
Good vitamin D levels have also been associated with reduced risk of disease such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. In particular, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to gestational diabetes.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and is contained in few foods naturally, but is added to others. The best source of vitamin D is obtained through the UV rays of the sun. Without increasing risks of sun damage, it is important to get some sunlight contact on your skin. Information on the recommended exposure without increased risk of sun damage can be found on the Cancer Council website.
A vitamin D test is included in your antenatal screening blood tests, which are performed early in pregnancy, at your first visit with us, or may be performed prior to you visiting us by your GP. If you are found to be low on Vitamin D, we will recommend a supplement for you. The dose will be dependent on your level of deficiency. If your levels are significantly below normal, we will retest 10-12 weeks later. It is important to maintain your vitamin D levels whilst pregnant, and also while breastfeeding.
If you want to know more about vitamin D or would like to check you levels, please speak with Dr Stephen Morris at your next appointment.