New research reveals higher levels may lead to an easier delivery.
The best way to relieve pain during childbirth may start with the sun. Pregnant women that had low levels of Vitamin D had more painful labors, according to a new study released by the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
The researchers studied 93 women during childbirth. All requested epidurals, but those who tested to have a Vitamin D deficiency prior to delivery consumed higher levels of pain medication while pushing, according to the study. "Prevention and treatment of low Vitamin D levels in pregnant women may have a significant impact on decreasing labor pain in millions of women every year," senior study author Andrew Geller, M.D., physician anesthesiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said in a release. How does it work? When the body's ability to suppress discomfort starts to descend, the findings tie the nutrient with being able to activate pain-suppressing pathways.
It's not uncommon to be Vitamin D-epleted. In fact, the study revealed that 82 percent of moms-to-be had lower-than-needed levels. And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists puts vegetarians, those with limited exposure to the sun, and women with darker skin tones at even higher of a risk. "Vitamin D is vital to a woman's health," says Sheryl Ross, M.D., an OB-GYN in Santa Monica, Calif. "A newborn's Vitamin D status directly reflects that of the mother and low levels while expecting are associated with increased risk of preterm labor, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and infections during pregnancy." She generally suggests 2,000 IUs daily. Signs that you're not getting enough are generally subtle and mirror normal pregnancy gripes, like sluggishness and bone pain, but your doc can measure your levels if you're concerned, Ross says.
But before you put another thing on your giant list of Things To Worry About While Pregnant, it's easy to up your daily intake. Here's how.
Soak up the sun—in moderation. Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin as it's nearly impossible to get sufficient levels of the nutrient through our diet alone, Ross says. The sun's rays spur our body to produce the natural pain relief agent, so spend some time outdoors to boost production.
Pour a bowl of milk and cereal (as long as it's fortified). Nab a few boxes of your favorite breakfast crunch (no, not the sugary stuff) to up your daily intake (1 cup of cereal has about 100 IUs). Stick with healthy options, like Multi-Grain Cheerios or All-Bran, and top it off with milk. Almost all cow's milk has Vitamin D (an 8-ounce glass has about 100 IUs), but not all soy or rice milk does, so be sure to check the label.
Oil up. A tablespoon of cod liver oil packs a punch of about 1,300 IUs of Vitamin D. If you're feeling queasy just thinking about the flavor, consider taking it in capsule form or finding a mint- or citrus-flavored option.
Don't skip your prenatal. The daily pill packs a punch of much-needed vitamins and minerals—Vitamin D included.