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Kylie McConville

Moms-to-Be Need Vitamin D More Than Ever During Their First Trimester

New research revealed just how important ample vitamin D is for mom's health during her pregnancy. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health found that women who are deficient in vitamin D in the first 26 weeks of their pregnancy may be at heightened risk of developing severe preeclampsia.

The study, which is one of the largest ever performed, studied blood samples collected from 700 pregnant women with preeclampsia to better understand a woman's vitamin D status and her risk of preeclampsia. They also included samples from 3,000 mothers collected between 1959 and 1965, who did not develop preeclampsia.

But before we go any further: what the hell is preeclampsia? The little-known disease, which has become more well-known after celebrity mom Kim Kardashian was diagnosed during the June birth of her baby girl. It's still fairly rare (only affecting 5-10 percent of pregnancies) and usually pops up between week 20 and (in some cases) a few days after delivery. There seems to be some genetic link associated and a woman's risk is also increased if she suffers from chronic hypertension, blood clotting disorders, diabetes, kidney disease or certain autoimmune diseases, is obese, over 40 or younger than 20, or if she is carrying more than one fetus.

A noticeable symptom of the condition is swelling in hands, feet and face. It’s also marked by an excessive weight gain of more than four pounds in one week. Expectant moms also dealing with preeclampsia could experience vision changes, intense pain in the upper abdomen, nausea, vomiting and severe headaches. Preeclampsia can also affect the placenta, as well as mom’s kidneys, liver and brain. In some cases, it can lead to a condition called eclampsia, which creates seizures and can cause major organ problems and even death.

The study, published in the journal Epidemiology and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that vitamin D sufficiency (which means moms got enough sun) was associated with a 40 percent reduction in preeclampsia risk. Also interesting was the fact that there was no relationship found between vitamin D and mild forms of preeclampsia. The results led scientists to believe that mild and severe forms of preeclampsia have different root causes.

Senior author, Mark A. Klebanoff, said, "Severe preeclampsia poses much higher health risks to the mother and child, so linking it with a factor that we can easily treat, like vitamin D deficiency, holds great potential." Added lead author Lisa Bodnar, "If our results hold true in a modern sample of pregnant women, then further exploring the role of vitamin D in reducing the risk of preeclampsia would be warranted," said Dr. Bodnar. "Until then, women shouldn't automatically take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy as a result of these findings."

What do you think? Could vitamin D affect a woman's risk of preeclamspia in pregnancy?

PHOTO: Elizabeth Messina / The Bump