Important: This is intended as general information only. It may not apply to your specific situation. It is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have a question or concern, please raise it with me at your next appointment or contact me sooner if it's urgent.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is a vitamin we make in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight. It is important for calcium metabolism and in forming and maintaining strong bones. In adults, a low level of vitamin D may cause osteoporosis which can result in fractures. In children, a low level of vitamin D can cause a deformity of the bones known as rickets. In very severe cases, babies with low vitamin D can have seizures due to a low blood calcium level.
Mild to moderate vitamin D deficiency is quite common, particularly here in Melbourne. Because we don’t enjoy the world’s best climate, we don’t actually get all that much sun exposure, particularly in winter. In addition, we are all much more sensible about sun exposure these days (nobody wants to get skin cancer) so we tend to cover up when in the sun. Generally speaking, the darker your skin is, the harder it is for you to make vitamin D or, put another way, the more sun exposure it takes for you to make vitamin D. Women who spend a lot of time veiled or otherwise covered are commonly vitamin D deficient.
I will test your vitamin D level at your first antenatal visit. It is important from your point of view to have a normal vitamin D level, to protect your bones. In addition, your baby needs a lot of vitamin D during his or her growth to ensure that he or she develops strong healthy bones.
If you have vitamin D deficiency, the good news is that it is easy to treat with vitamin D tablets. In less severe cases, you can take an over the counter supplement. In more severe cases you may need a stronger tablet which requires a prescription.
Women with vitamin D deficiency often ask me if they should spend more time in the sun. While a small amount of sun exposure is fine, my general answer to this question is no. If it’s winter, you probably can’t get enough sun here in Melbourne to make a difference anyway. In the warmer weather, too much sun exposure increases your risk of developing melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. While you can easily take a supplement for vitamin D deficiency, skin cancer is not so easy to treat.
If you are found to be deficient in vitamin D during the pregnancy, it may be a good idea for you to remain on a supplement in the longer term. I will discuss this with you in more detail after your baby is born.