What is Pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition characterised by high blood pressure, swelling and protein in the urine. The complication usually presents in the third trimester and affects between five and 10 percent of pregnancies in Australia. A pregnant woman may have pre-eclampsia with no signs of the condition, so regular ante-natal check-ups are required to check.
Approximately 1-2% of cases are serious enough that the mother and baby’s life are threatened. More cases of pre-eclampsia occur in first rather than subsequent pregnancies. The only cure is to deliver the baby.
Why Vitamin D Levels Matter
A deficiency in vitamin D is a risk factor for developing pre-eclampsia. Low levels of the vitamin can cause hypertension, cardiovascular disease, gestational diabetes and pre-term labour.
Vitamin D is also needed to absorb calcium from foods. Calcium is used to form strong teeth and bones and for the development of the nervous system.
If a mother has low levels of vitamin D, then it is most likely that her unborn baby will too. This places the baby at risk of developing rickets and short, bowed legs and may suffer from seizures after birth.
How can you tell what your Vitamin D Level is?
A blood test is needed to determine the level of vitamin D. If your level is low, you may be directed to get more sun exposure and take a supplement as your prenatal vitamin will most probably not contain enough vitamin D.
As vitamin D is required daily, you may need to take a daily supplement for the rest of your pregnancy and several months after particularly if you are breastfeeding. Your baby may also need a supplement as there is little vitamin D contained in breast milk.
You may need another blood test once you have finished taking the supplements to ensure your vitamin D levels have returned to a normal range. Continued low vitamin D levels can result in softer bones which may break easier and weaker muscles.
Improving your Intake of Vitamin D
Vitamin D levels can be improved through exposure to sunlight. Our bodies gain 90% of its vitamin D through the sun on exposed skin. The amount of sun you need will depend on your skin type and time of year. During the summer months, a fair-skinned person will need 10 minutes of sun on their face, arms and hands while a dark-skinned person will need 20 minutes.
With the weaker winter sun, the time increases to 30 minutes for fair-skinned people and 90-minutes for dark skinned people. In winter it’s important to make the most of every sunny day to wear a short sleeved top and take a walk in the sun. During spring and autumn, it’s 20 minutes of sun exposure for fair-skinned and 60 minutes for dark-skinned people.
The other 10% of our source of vitamin D comes from food. Vitamin D can be found in oily fish, eggs and fortified foods such as milk.
If you have any concerns about your level of vitamin D or pre-eclampsia, talk to your doctor, obstetrician or midwife.