The Importance Of Vitamin D During Postpartum
Vitamin D is a concern for Canadians during the winter months. Because we spend most of our time indoors, we don’t get as much sunshine, which is a major source of vitamin D. This is an important vitamin throughout all stages of life, but it is particularly beneficial to understand the importance of vitamin D during postpartum.
The Role of Vitamin D During Postpartum
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important in the maintenance of strong bones (1). It also helps in the body’s absorption of calcium and plays a role in muscles, nerves, and a healthy immune system (2). It’s important to consume enough vitamin D postpartum to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D and Sunshine
You may know vitamin D as the vitamin that you get from the sun. Vitamin D is the only vitamin that the human body can produce itself by being exposed to the sun (1). However, limited sunlight exposure in Canada especially, makes this difficult during the winter months (1). Also, many other factors such as age, geographical location, sunscreen, and skin tone can influence the amount of vitamin D your body produces from sunlight (2). For these reasons, you can’t rely solely on sunlight to get the recommended amount of vitamin D.
Postpartum Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is common among pregnant and lactating mothers because of the low amounts of vitamin D in foods, as well as not enough vitamin D supplementation (3). If you aren’t getting enough vitamin D, your body’s calcium levels will decrease. This will cause calcium to be drawn from your bones to help keep blood levels of calcium stable. Serious health problems could result from this situation, such as weakening of the bones known as osteoporosis.
During your final trimester, the majority of your baby’s bones are formed (3). This required a large amount of calcium and vitamin D, which was taken from the stores in your own body (3). Vitamin D deficiency increases your risk of health complications, such as osteomalacia, which is the softening of bones, or osteoporosis (3). Low amounts of vitamin D means your body won’t be able to absorb calcium very well. Therefore, consuming enough vitamin D after giving birth is important for your long term health.
Vitamin D Requirements During Lactation
It is currently recommended that breastfeeding, chestfeeding, or lactating parents consume 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D per day (2). A baby who is fed human milk should also be given vitamin D drops (2). The recommendation of 600 IU is enough to meet your own vitamin D requirements, but not your baby’s. This is because breastmilk is not a good source of vitamin D. Lactating mothers have very low amounts of vitamin D, resulting in low levels of vitamin D in their breast milk (3). You can learn more about your Baby’s Vitamin D Needs here.
Some studies have shown that an intake of 4000 IU per day is enough to meet maternal as well as infant vitamin D needs for those who are feeding their baby human milk (3). If you want to increase your supplementation to this level, you should meet with a Registered Dietitian first. There can be side effects associated with vitamin D when exceeding maximum recommended levels per day.
Vitamin D Requirements Postpartum
For those who are not lactating, the current recommendation for people aged 9 to 70 years is 600 IU per day (2). If you are feeding your baby formula, vitamin D drops are typically not needed because formula already contains the necessary amount for infants. You can learn more about your Baby’s Vitamin D Needs here.
Source of Vitamin D
Many food sources are fortified with vitamin D because it isn’t found naturally in many food products (2). Sources of vitamin D include:
- Fortified dairy products (cow’s milk, yogurt, margarine)
- Egg yolk
- Fish (salmon, sardines)
- Fortified soy and rice beverages
Vitamin D Supplementation Postpartum
Vitamin D is not present in many foods. Additionally, living in Canada means we have decreased sunlight exposure. Therefore, it is hard to meet the recommended intake of vitamin D. A vitamin D supplement may be right for you, but talking with a Registered Dietitian can help you make an informed decision that is best for you.
Final Notes from The Nest
Understanding the importance of vitamin D during postpartum will help you reduce the risk of health complications. After giving birth, your vitamin D blood levels are low from the final trimester. Sunlight and foods fortified with vitamin D may not be enough to provide a sufficient amount of vitamin D for you and your breastfeeding baby. Therefore, a supplement may be beneficial in reaching the recommended intake of 600 IU per day. For more information or individualized recommendations, please feel free to reach out to a Registered Dietitian at The Nest.
Article written by Julie Van Osch
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- O’Connor DL, Blake J, Bell R, Bowen A, Callum J, Fenton S, et al. Canadian consensus on female nutrition: adolescence, reproduction, menopause, and beyond. J Obset Gynaecol Can. 2016;38(6):508-554. https://doi-org.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/10.1016/j.jogc.2016.01.001
- Unlock Food [Internet]. Canada: Dietitians of Canada; c2022 [updated 2019 Sept 8; cited 2022 Jan 18]. What you need to know about Vitamin D; [about 6 screens]. Available from: https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-you-need-to-know-about-Vitamin-D.aspx
- Godel JC; Canadian Paediatric Society, First Nations, Inuit and Métis Health Committee. Vitamin D supplementation: recommendations for Canadian mothers and infants. Paediatr Child Health (Oxford). 2007;12(7):583-589. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/12.7.583