Dr Know - Pregnant? New mum? Get your free vitamin D
A monthly column by Dr Jonty Heaversedge, Chair of NHS Southwark CCG
Are you pregnant or a new mum? If so, vitamin D is very important for you and your baby and is available to you for free.When you’re pregnant, you need to take supplements to provide your baby with enough vitamin D for the first few months of its life.
Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, which is essential for keeping bones healthy throughout life.
In Southwark, you can get free vitamin D supplements during your pregnancy. After birth, you can continue to get the supplements for a year, along with vitamin D drops for your child until they reach age four.
Vitamin D helps to make sure the bones and teeth of both you and your child are strong. Babies and children under five are at risk of having low levels of vitamin D which can lead to a condition called Rickets, which affects the way bones develop and grow.
Adults can also be at risk of a deficiency - in particular if you are: pregnant or breastfeeding; of Asian, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin; cover up your skin for cultural reasons; are unable to go outside much; or are overweight.
The best source of vitamin D is sunlight on your skin. However the sun in the UK is only strong enough between April and September. The amount of time you need in the sun to make enough vitamin D is different for every person and depends on things such as skin type, the time of day and the time of year. Going out in the sun for around 15 minutes without sunscreen three to four times a week in the summer sun is a good way to keep vitamin D levels topped up. After this period it is important to apply sunscreen as usual and carefully avoid sunburn.
It is also difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone, no matter how healthy your diet is. However, vitamin D is found naturally in small amounts in some foods such as oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout. There is also a small amount of vitamin D in eggs and fortified foods (with added vitamin D) such as some breakfast cereals.
You can collect your free vitamin D supplements from a number of pharmacies in the borough. Ask your local pharmacist or GP about where to get them. There is also a list of the participating pharmacies on the Southwark Council website www.southwark.gov.uk/freeD
For information about other important vitamins for you and your baby go to www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-minerals