Nutrient: Vitamin D
Why It's Important: Long known to be critical to the health of bones by aiding the body in absorbing calcium, new research is revealing that vitamin D plays multiple vital roles in the body, including the normal functioning of nerves, muscles, and the immune system. “Vitamin D is the conductor of the orchestra; it tells every cell what to do and be,” says Anding. Recent studies have found that vitamin D is integral to the development of the brain and nervous system in infants, too, making it a critical vitamin during the childbearing years. In addition, a new study from France found that an adequate vitamin D status during pregnancy may reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
How To Get Enough: You get vitamin D in two ways: By consuming it in your diet, or by going outdoors on a sunny day: Your skin manufactures vitamin D in the presence of sunlight. During the warmest months, as little as 5 to 30 minutes of exposure between 10 AM and 3 PM, several times a week to your face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen may be enough, according to the National Institutes of Health. The problem: Using a sunscreen can block this process, and many doctors don't recommend going without it given the skin cancer risk. Plus, in cold winter months, the sun isn’t strong enough for the skin to make enough vitamin D if you live north of Boston or the northern border of California. If you live in a northern state, don’t go outside without sunscreen very much, or you don’t consume dairy products fortified with vitamin D, you may need to take a Vitamin D supplement.
Before/During/After Pregnancy: The current DRI for adult women up to age 50 is 200 IUs (International Units) per day, but it is under review. In light of the new research, many experts now believe this is too low; some recommend that adult women consume as much as 1,000 IUs of vitamin D daily. In fact, last year the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all infants begin receiving supplementation with 400 IUs of vitamin D a few days after birth to reduce their risks of the bone disease rickets, and to promote optimal health. Most prenatal vitamins contain 400 IUs of vitamin D. Until new recommendations are made, consult your physician about what’s best for you.