How much vitamin D should you take during pregnancy?
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that our bodies can generate through sun exposure. Because the sun isn’t very strong in the UK during the autumn and winter, the current guidance from the NHS is that Brits should consider taking vitamin D supplements during these months. This includes pregnant women.
In the spring, summer, and early autumn, the UV rays in sunlight are strong enough that our bodies can generate vitamin D through our skin, simply by spending time outside.
In the autumn and winter, we have to rely on vitamin D in our diet – but this can be difficult as it’s not found in that many foods. This is the time when the NHS advises taking vitamin D supplements.
Do I need to take a vitamin D supplement?
For adults and children over the age of one, the recommended daily dose of vitamin D supplements is 10 micrograms (mcg) or 400 International Units (IU). The upper limit is 100 micrograms (mcg) or 4,000 International Units (IU) – taking more than this each day could be dangerous.
Certain people will be advised to take supplements throughout the year – this includes pregnant women with a particular risk of a vitamin D deficiency. If you’re pregnant and you think you’re more at risk of low vitamin D, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP or midwife, as they may advise a higher daily dose of supplements.
What happens if vitamin D is low during pregnancy?
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient regardless of whether you’re pregnant. It helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which in turn helps to keep the bones, teeth, and muscles healthy. Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to problems with the bones.
It’s thought that low vitamin D in pregnancy can lead to a greater risk of complications for the mother, including:
Babies born with a vitamin D deficiency will also be at greater risk of developing severe rickets – a condition that causes the bones to be soft, weak, and easily deformed. They may also have an increased chance of serious allergies.
Can I take vitamin D during pregnancy?
Unless you’ve been advised otherwise by your GP or midwife, vitamin D supplements should be completely safe for you to take while you’re pregnant and breastfeeding. You just need to make sure that you’re not having more than the recommended upper limit of 100mcg/4,000 IU each day. You should also be careful about taking any combined supplements or multivitamins, as these can contain substances harmful to your baby, like vitamin A.
The NHS advises that everyone, including pregnant women, should take 10 micrograms (mcg) or 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D supplements between October and March. If you are more at risk of vitamin D deficiency, it’s likely that your midwife or GP will advise you to take vitamin D throughout the entirety of your pregnancy – regardless of the time of year.
How do I know if I’m at risk of low vitamin D?
Low vitamin D can be a problem if you don’t get enough sun exposure, or if your body struggles to make enough vitamin D. You’re more likely to have a deficiency if you:
- Spend most of your time inside
- Have very dark skin e.g. you’re of African or South Asian origin
- Cover most of your skin when you go outside
If you’re in any doubt at all about how much vitamin D to take, make sure you consult your GP or midwife.
Is vitamin D safe in the first trimester?
There’s a long list of things that pregnant women are told to avoid during their first trimester – but vitamin D supplements are not one of them! In fact, you’ll probably be encouraged to take vitamin D supplements in your first trimester, especially if you’ve become pregnant during the autumn or winter.
Vitamin D is safe for women throughout pregnancy provided it’s not taken at too high a dose. Make sure you don’t take more than 100 micrograms (mcg) each day.
Can I get vitamin D from food?
Yes, and it’s a good idea to try and include sources of vitamin D in your diet. Vitamin D is found in:
- Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines
- Egg yolks
- Red meat
- Fortified foods like nut milks and cereals
- Wild mushrooms
You can read sources of vitamin D and vitamin D rich foods to find out more.
Just remember that, if you’re pregnant, you’ll need to be more careful with your food:
- Don’t eat any raw or undercooked meat e.g. burgers or steaks that are pink or bloody
- Only eat raw or undercooked eggs if they have the British Lion stamp
- Don’t eat more than two portions of oily fish each week
What other supplements should I take during pregnancy?
Folic acid is an important pregnancy supplement, as it can help prevent birth defects like spina bifida. You should take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day when you’re trying to get pregnant and should continue taking it until you’re 12 weeks pregnant.
There are also pregnancy supplements that you can take before you get pregnant, throughout your pregnancy and postpartum. If you’re planning to breastfeed your baby there are also supplements that can support your wellbeing while you do so.
Find out more in our best supplements for pregnancy blog.
Will my baby need vitamin D?
Yes, your baby will need vitamin D. The NHS advises a daily dose of between 8.5 and 10 micrograms each day for babies under one. If you plan to breastfeed, you’ll need to give your baby vitamin D drops. If you plan to feed your baby with formula milk, you shouldn’t need to use drops, as formula is already fortified with vitamin D.
Learn more in our guide to vitamin D for babies.
Where can I get pregnancy supplements?
Some pregnant women will qualify for free supplements on the Healthy Start scheme – click here to find out more.