Pregnancy can be a confusing time, and sometimes it's hard to make the healthiest choices - for both mom and baby. After all, there can be so many restrictions, things you can and can't eat, and when it comes to supplements, it seems like there is an endless choice. From folic acid to calcium, it's difficult to know what's truly best to help maintain a healthy pregnancy.
But sometimes, eating as well as you can, being as diligent as possible, and remembering to take your vitamins just isn't enough. In fact, a recent study out of Norway that found that one in three women ends up becoming deficient in vitamin D by the end of their pregnancy.
Norway isn't unique. Pregnant women across the globe often lack sufficient levels of this essential vitamin, and experts are finding this a worrisome statistic. Vitamin D is extremely important, especially during pregnancy, and low vitamin D levels can create serious issues for both mom and baby. Vitamin D helps maintain bone mass, and during pregnancy, it plays a crucial part in ensuring there is sufficient calcium to build the baby's bone mass and maintain mom's as well. Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with an increased risk of premature birth, asthma, high blood pressure, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
Dr. Miriam K. Gustafsson, the lead researcher in the study and Ph.D. candidate from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Department of Public Health and Nursing, says that education plays a big part in creating awareness surrounding the importance of vitamin D during pregnancy. She cites the efforts that were made to successfully inform women about the importance of folic acid in reducing neural tube defects and argues that equal emphasis should be placed on vitamin D as well.
"I don't think knowledge about the importance of vitamin D has reached the same level [as folic acid]," she said. "There are a lot of people who can help get this information out to pregnant women. GPs and midwives see women for pregnancy checks. It's also important that the information from the health authorities is communicated to the public and health personnel."
Fortunately, there are certain, simple things women can do to increase their levels of vitamin D during pregnancy. Even small actions, according to Gustafsson, can lead to improved levels. According to the American Pregnancy Association, eating more vitamin D-rich foods is a good first step. These foods include fatty fish, cheese, egg yolks and fortified cereals, orange juice and dairy products. Research suggests that 5-10 minutes of sun exposure two to three times per week can help as well.
Finally, supplementation is often the best way to ensure adequate vitamin D, and fortunately, there is a wide range of products available. Check with your health care provider next time you have an appointment to discuss which ones are right for you and your pregnancy.
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