June 20, 2011 -- Routine screening of all pregnant women for vitamin D deficiency is not recommended, according to new guidelines issued by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Although vitamin D deficiency is considered common during pregnancy, the group says there is not enough good evidence to support widespread screening of all pregnant women.
Instead, the group says most pregnant women can ensure they're getting enough vitamin D by taking prenatal vitamins.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps the body absorb the calcium needed for healthy bone development. Most vitamin D is produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight. But people can also get vitamin D in the diet through fortified milk and juice, fish oils, and dietary supplements.
Severe vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy has been linked to abnormal skeletal development, congenital rickets, and bone fractures in newborns.
"Recent data suggests that vitamin D deficiency is common among pregnant women, particularly among high-risk groups such as vegetarians, those who have limited exposure to the sun, and women with darker skin tones," says researcher George A. Macones, MD, chair of ACOG's Committee on Obstetric Practice, in a news release.
The committee recommends that only groups at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency should be tested during pregnancy.
In their report, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers say the problem is that there is no agreement on what the optimal level or safe upper limit of vitamin D supplementation should be during pregnancy.
Most experts agree that taking 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) per day of vitamin D is safe during pregnancy.
"Anything higher than this has not been studied," says Macones.
Until ongoing clinical trials on vitamin D and pregnancy are complete, he says most pregnant women can get enough vitamin D through sun exposure and prenatal vitamins.