Pregnancy + Parenthood

Vitamin D and Pregnancy: Here's What to Consider

5 min read

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With pregnancy comes great responsibility—and nutrition is no exception. When eating for two (or three, or four), it becomes that much more important to ensure nutrient needs are being met. One major example? Vitamin D. Studies show that over 90% of pregnant women are not getting enough vitamin D from their diets; in fact, according to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data, pregnant women are only getting about 30% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) from the foods they eat, leaving an approximate 70% gap in vitamin D intake.* (1)

And considering the myriad of roles vitamin D plays in the body—everything from assisting with calcium absorption and bone health maintenance to supporting normal immune and muscle function (not to mention infant dental health)—there’s a strong case to be made to improve those numbers. Translation? We can do better by our bodies, and the first step toward creating healthier habits is to get informed.* (5)

In this crash course, we’ll cover some key things to keep in mind about vitamin D and pregnancy, including what vitamin D is (and why it matters), how much is recommended, ideal sources, and where vitamin D supplements fit into it all.

So, why is maternal vitamin D status important?

Vitamin D is a key nutrient that supports multiple functions in the body. Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, it’s a fat-soluble vitamin that does a lot of heavy-lifting, contributing to normal calcium metabolism (basically, a scientific way of saying that it supports the absorption of calcium consumed through dietary sources).

In addition to supporting muscle health, vitamin D also impacts the immune system, supporting normal immune function. The takeaway: Maintaining recommended vitamin D levels can go a long way toward supporting nutrient needs—regardless of whether someone is in early pregnancy or their third trimester (or not expecting at all!).*

How much vitamin D is recommended?

Let’s start with the facts: Many of us, pregnant or not, could probably use a little more vitamin D in our day-to-day—national data reveals that more than 95% of non-pregnant or lactating women ages 20-44 (compared to more than 90% of pregnant women) aren’t getting enough vitamin D from diet.† (Vegans also tend to have low vitamin D intake.) So, what does public health guidance endorse? Good question. The National Institute of Medicine recommends an RDA of 600 IU/day for adults ages 18-70, which translates to about 15 mcg a day of vitamin D. Those who are 70 or older may need a higher dose of up to 800 IU/day (20 mcg a day).* (1, 2)

What are some sources of vitamin D?

The sun, for one! Perhaps the most well-known source, sun exposure is a great means for vitamin D production—but it’s not always foolproof, thanks to the prevalence of factors like urban dwelling, seasonal changes, and even sunscreen use. Natural food sources of vitamin D do exist, but they’re few and far between—foods don’t always naturally contain vitamin D, so people commonly end up consuming it through fortified foods like plant milks and breakfast cereals.* (3)

The best naturally occuring sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, such as trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel; beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and mushrooms also contain small amounts, but would have to be eaten in fairly large, and oftentimes unrealistic, quantities to meaningfully move the needle—which is where supplements can come in handy. (Considering the aforementioned sources, it’s also easy to see how a vegan eater may be at an increased risk for lower vitamin D intakes in general.)* (3)

Ultimately, we recommend aiming for a combination of all three: sunlight, dietary sources (we’re all about a food-first approach), and supplementation.*

Where does vitamin D supplementation fit into the picture?

Good news: You may not have to look very far! Many prenatal multivitamins feature vitamin D in the formula—and most experts agree that taking a prenatal multivitamin is a must. (FWIW, we recommend taking a prenatal multivitamin when thinking, trying, and when it’s time.)*

There are two types of vitamin D that the body uses: vitamin D2 (aka ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (aka cholecalciferol). Though it’s found naturally in some plant sources (like mushrooms), vitamin D2 is largely man-made for the purpose of fortifying foods, while vitamin D3 is the version our body naturally produces—which is why many experts, including our Scientific Team, recommend supplementing with D3. (Vitamin D3 is often synthesized for commercial applications, too.)* (4)

Designed to lend nutrient support in a birthing person’s diet, Essential Prenatal Multivitamin contains 12 key nutrients for before and during pregnancy, one of which is vitamin D3—derived from lichen, a naturally occurring plant in the wild. (Meet our supplier here, and check out our tips for picking a high-quality prenatal vitamin.)*

The essential takeaway?

Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels is always important—and is especially important during pregnancy (and breastfeeding, for that matter). That, taken into account with the fact that many of us have room for improvement, means that focusing on a mix of sunlight, diet, and supplementation (like Essential Prenatal Multivitamin) is a good idea. Of course, as with any dietary supplement, be sure to check in with a trusted healthcare provider before starting a new regimen (or if you have any questions about antenatal care in general).*

Psst—have you heard of the Essential for Women 18+ university-led, placebo-controlled clinical study measuring the impact of vitamin D supplementation? Learn all about the road to our clinical trial here.


  1. USDA, Agricultural Research Service. Usual Nutrient Intake from Food and Beverages, by Pregnancy/Lactation Status, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2013-2016. 2021.
  2. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium; Ross AC, Taylor CL, Yaktine AL, et al., editors. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011. 5, Dietary Reference Intakes for Adequacy: Calcium and Vitamin D.
  3. National Institutes of Health. (2021, March 22). Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Consumers. Office of Dietary Supplements.
  4. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium; Ross AC, Taylor CL, Yaktine AL, et al., editors. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011. 3, Overview of Vitamin D.
  5. National Institutes of Health. (2021, August 17). Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Office of Dietary Supplements.


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