Side effects of vitamin D insufficiency during pregnancy

Vitamin D is important at all life stages but the need for this important nutrient increases during pregnancy to support both the mother’s well-being and the growth of her baby. The developing baby is dependent on the vitamin D status of his/her mother for adequate vitamin D nutrition, which is important for the healthy growth of their skeleton. This is why a woman’s vitamin D requirements can increase up to four to five fold throughout pregnancy.

The baby stores vitamin D while in the womb and relies on these reserves until they can obtain their own vitamin D from sunlight and diet. Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels may have long term benefits for the mother and baby, and there is evidence that low vitamin D may be associated with adverse outcomes in pregnancy and after birth. These outcomes include:

For the developing baby:

  • Poor skeletal development – Adequate vitamin D status during pregnancy is important for fetal bone growth by facilitating the absorption and utilization of calcium. Therefore, if an expectant mother is insufficient in vitamin D it may impact the healthy development of her baby.
  • Long term skeletal health problems – There may also be long term effects of maternal vitamin D status on the child’s skeletal health, as adequate levels during pregnancy are associated with improved bone density in children at nine years of age.1
  • Low birth weight – There is an association between maintaining adequate vitamin D levels and supporting a healthy birth weight.2
  • Immune system effects – Vitamin D is recognized as being important for the proper functioning of the immune system. Maternal vitamin D status during pregnancy may therefore affect the developing immune system of the fetus and lead to immune problems later in life.3

For the expectant mother:

  • Adverse bone effects – Vitamin D is an important nutrient for strong healthy bones, therefore if a mother is insufficient, it may have an adverse effect on her bone health.
  • Poor immune function – As vitamin D helps maintain a healthy immune system, insufficient levels may affect a mother’s immune function
  • Other complicationsVitamin D insufficiency in pregnancy has been linked with a number of maternal problems during the gestation period and at birth.4

If you are concerned that you and your developing baby may not be getting enough vitamin D, speak to your healthcare professional for advice. They may recommend a blood test to confirm your levels and a vitamin D supplement to ensure your needs are met.