Pregnant women who have low levels of vitamin D face a five-fold risk of preeclampsia, a serious complication during pregnancy which can lead to death of the fetus. Preeclampsia is marked by soaring blood pressure and swelling of the hands and feet, and is the leading cause of premature delivery and maternal and fetal illness and death worldwide, believed to contribute to 76,000 deaths each year. Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition for pregnant women, often forcing women to deliver prematurely to protect her health and the baby's. Being a vitamin closely associated with bone health, vitamin D deficiency early in life is associated with rickets in children.While the actual prevalence of rickets is hard to define, more and more healthcare professionals are diagnosing cases of vitamin D deficiency. There is seasonal variation in vitamin D status: it is lowest during winter, when we rely on body stores and dietary intake to maintain adequate levels. In winter months at latitudes of 52 degrees north (above Birmingham), there is no ultraviolet light of the appropriate wavelength for the body to make vitamin D in the skin.It takes only 15 minutes exposure of the arms, head and shoulders in the sun each day during the summer months to make enough vitamin D for good health. Eating foods like oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals and breads are all sources of vitamin D, but these may still be inadequate when sunshine hours are limited. At these times pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under four may benefit from a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.Pregnant and breastfeeding women are recommended to take vitamin D supplement to ensure babies get the best start in life. Babies tend to receive vitamin D from their mothers while in the womb, and then from breast milk until they are weaned. If a pregnant or breastfeeding woman is lacking in vitamin D, the baby will also have low vitamin D and calcium levels which can lead babies to develop seizures in the first months of life. Women, pregnant as well as lactating are advised to enjoy the sun safely and prevent sunburn. Once vitamin D requirements are met, further exposure to sunlight will not result in any extra health benefits - however, it will increase the risk of developing skin cancer. There are only a few foods that are good sources of vitamin D, so vitamin D supplements are often recommended unless you are exposed to sunlight on your skin regularly.
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