Here in the Cayman Islands, though we are lucky to enjoy an abundance of vitamin D-supporting sunshine on most days, we all still need to be aware of our vitamin D intake. Partly, this is because our abundance of sunshine leads us to use high factor sunscreens and avoid the sunshine, as part of staying skin safe, leading to a higher rate of vitamin D deficiency than many less sunny countries. This awareness is especially important during pregnancy, a time of life when vitamin D plays a major role for both expectant mothers and their babies.
Everyone has a natural ability to convert the sunshine that falls on our skin into Vitamin D, but the amount of sun exposure needed varies from individual to individual, and is heavily influenced by our own behaviours e.g. staying indoors when the sun is bright. For this reason, supplements are sometimes necessary, alongside our sun safety practices. Over-exposure to the sun is not at all necessary, nor advised, to experience the benefits of sunshine. More importantly, we need to be aware that we may need to supplement vitamin D to achieve optimal levels for pregnancy.
Achieving an adequate Vitamin D status or levels whilst pregnant is especially important for all women who are expecting a baby for several reasons. Vitamin D is important for everyone because it helps our bodies absorb calcium and phosphate, but it is particularly important in pregnancy for the benefits it can provide your baby.
Here are a few examples of the benefits of Vitamin D during pregnancy:
- Vitamin D supports the development of your baby’s bones, teeth, and nervous system.
- Vitamin D during pregnancy ensures your baby has enough Vitamin D stored for the first few months of life.
- Vitamin D keeps your bones healthy as your pregnancy progresses and reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia, low birthweight, and pre-term birth.
No clear recommendations exist around how much time in the sun we actually need to make enough vitamin D, especially as everything from time to skin colour affect production and so supplements may be necessary to ensure that both you and your baby get sufficient amounts of the vitamin.
As too much vitamin D is to be avoided too, it is important to discuss this topic with your OBGYN, who may do a simple blood test to ascertain your vitamin D status.
Vitamin D is also available in foods. Certain foods that contain vitamin D can help you increase your intake of the vitamin, but again it is difficult to predict the impact of food consumption on your vitamin D levels as it has many inputs. Foods that contribute to vitamin D include:
- Eggs (egg yolks in particular)
- Oily fish like herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon
- Red meat
- Fortified breakfast cereals, spreads, and non-dairy milk alternatives
Supplements for vitamin D range from around 400 IU up to 5,000+ IU. Some women may need more vitamin D supplementation than others, especially if they go outdoors infrequently and always stay covered in the sun with clothes or high-factor sun block. Equally, darker skinned women and women with a BMI over 30 also may need more vitamin D to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
- Vitamin D is important for both a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby
- Vitamin D deficiency is already an issue in Cayman Islands due to our sun protection behaviours
- Too much vitamin D can also be a bad thing
- Supplements are frequently necessary through pregnancy
The key piece of advice is to speak to your OBGYN about vitamin D deficiency, and they will help you ascertain whether supplements are necessary and what an advisable dose is.
If you need supplements, they can be obtained off-the-shelf at Kirk Supermarket and Fosters, as well as from most major pharmacies.