Vitamin D deficiency is common, especially in northern latitudes where sunlight feels like it's in short supply. Combine that with hours spent indoors for work, and it’s easy for anyone to be low in this critical nutrient.
However, in pregnancy, vitamin D deficiency takes on an even more critical dimension. That’s because there is a strong association between vitamin D status during that time and infant brain development, including cognitive strength, motor skills, and language understanding as they get older.
The first and second trimesters are especially key times for optimal vitamin D intake. In fact, independent of other factors, low vitamin D levels during the first trimester predicted worse outcomes in language skills and cognitive ability. By the third trimester, continued deficiency in this nutrient affected language and motor skills even more dramatically.
It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of vitamin D for a multitude of reasons, but infant and child well-being is definitely one of the most crucial. Vitamin D supplementation is inexpensive and simple, and a daily dose of 5,000 IUs is well within healthy parameters that can prevent deficiencies.
There are two forms of vitamin D used in supplements. Vitamin D2 is the form of vitamin D synthesized by plants. It is also known as ergocalciferol.
Cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3, is the form that is produced by the human body. Both D2 and D3 can increase circulating vitamin D levels, although many people prefer to use the D3 form as being closer to what is already found in the body.
Voltas N, Canals J, Hernández-Martínez C, Serrat N, Basora J, Arija V. Effect of Vitamin D Status during Pregnancy on Infant Neurodevelopment: The ECLIPSES Study. Nutrients. 2020 Oct 19;12(10):E3196. doi: 10.3390/nu12103196. PMID: 33086652.
Vitamin D status during pregnancy is involved in numerous physiological processes, including brain development. In this study, we assess the association between vitamin D status during pregnancy and infant neurodevelopment (cognitive, language, and motor skills). From an initial sample of 793 women (mean age 30.6) recruited before the 12th week of pregnancy, 422 mother-infant pairs were followed up to a postpartum visit. Vitamin D levels were assessed in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy, and socio-demographic, nutritional, and psychological variables were collected. At 40 days postpartum, the Bayley Scales of Infant Development-III were administered to the infants and several obstetrical data were recorded. Independently from several confounding factors, deficient vitamin D levels in the first trimester of pregnancy (<30 nmol/L) predicted a worse performance in cognitive and language skills. Language performance worsened with lower vitamin D levels (<20 nmol/L). In the third trimester, this highly deficient level was also associated with lower motor skills. Vitamin D deficiency was therefore associated with worse neurodevelopmental outcomes. More studies are needed to determine specific recommendations with regard to vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy in order to promote an optimal course for pregnancy and optimal infant neurodevelopment.
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