Vitamin D is often called “the sunshine vitamin” since it can be absorbed through the skin from the sun. Deficiencies in vitamin D have long been associated with brittle bones and some research has found connections with cancer, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, asthma, and depression. Recently, a connection between low vitamin D levels and increased pain during labor and childbirth has been explored.

A study presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY ™ 2014 annual meeting found an association between low vitamin D levels and increased requests for pain medication. The study evaluated the vitamin D levels in 93 pregnant women and then the amount of pain medication consumed during labor. The findings showed a correlation, but how or why vitamin D levels may impact labor pain is not known.

The sample size for the study is quite small and only patients who requested and received an epidural were included. This raises some interesting questions. Do expectant mothers who desire a natural childbirth produce or consume more vitamin D? Is this related to their level of information and education about pregnancy and childbirth? We know that childbirth education and the intention of a natural birth are correlated. Could it be that as part of their learning process, this population of mothers-to-be also research nutrition, diet and supplements?

Additional research on the connection between vitamin D levels and the amount of pain medication consumed during labor is definitely needed. In the meantime, it may be useful for doulas to provide information to clients on what is known about vitamin D in terms of general health benefits during pregnancy. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased chances of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and pre-term birth. WHO provides information on vitamin D supplementation, including their guidelines and evidence on the topic, here.

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— Adrianne Gordon, MBA, CD(DONA)