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Vitamin D deficiency

What is vitamin D deficiency?

Having a vitamin D deficiency means there is a low level of vitamin D in your blood. It can affect people of all ages including adults, children and babies. It is diagnosed with a blood test.

What does vitamin D do?

Vitamin D keeps your bones and teeth healthy and strong by maintaining the calcium level in your blood. Not enough vitamin D leads to bone diseases such as rickets and thin bones.

Vitamin D deficiency

Where does vitamin D come from?

Ninety per cent of the vitamin D your body needs comes from the action of sunshine on your skin.

In Brisbane, fair skinned people need their face, hands and arms exposed to sunlight for six to seven minutes in summer and 15 to 19 minutes in winter, four to six times a week, to ensure their body makes enough vitamin D.1

Darker skinned people and people using sunscreen (with SPF15–30) need more time in the sun to get the same amount of vitamin D.

Please note: you should avoid exposure to sunlight between 10 am and 3 pm. You should also take care not to get sunburnt as this will increase the risk of skin cancer You can also find a small amount of vitamin D (10 per cent) in some foods including:

  • milk that has vitamin D added to it
  • margarine that has vitamin D added to it
  • oily fish e.g. salmon, sardines, tuna, herring and fish roe
  • eggs
  • Shitake mushrooms.

Cod liver oil and liver are usually good sources of vitamin D but are not recommended in pregnancy. However, they are safe to use while breastfeeding.

Dietary supplements containing vitamin D are available at your local pharmacy.

All pregnant and breastfeeding women are encouraged to use a multi-vitamin supplement, containing vitamin D, folic acid and iodine, to ensure that recommended daily intakes are achieved.2

What causes vitamin D deficiency?

  • Not enough skin exposed to sunlight e.g. veiled women.
  • Dark skin colour as this absorbs less sunlight than fair skin.
  • Not enough vitamin D in the diet.
  • Breastfeeding for longer than 12 months.

    Breastfeeding to two years and beyond is recommended by the World Health Organization so it is important that you do not stop breastfeeding. Vitamin D supplements are available which can be safely used for both you and your baby, while continuing to breastfeed.

  • Babies born to vitamin D deficient mothers may also develop vitamin D deficiency, particularly if breastfeeding.
  • Other medical conditions such as:
    • obesity
    • problems with absorption from the gut (previous weight loss surgery)
    • Cystic Fibrosis
    • Coeliac disease
    • Crohn's disease.

What are the problems with vitamin D deficiency?

In children:

  • Fits due to low calcium levels in the blood— hypocalcaemic seizures.
  • Soft bones which lead to bent limbs—rickets.

In adults:

  • Thin bones—osteoporosis; fractures.
  • Soft bones—osteomalacia.
  • Body pains.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Low vitamin D levels have also been linked with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, poor mental health.

All of these problems can be prevented with treatment of the vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency

What is the treatment of vitamin D deficiency?

  • Vitamin D tablets, mixture or drops. The amount you need to take will depend on your vitamin D level. Talk to your doctor or midwife.
  • Extra time in the sun—remember to avoid exposure to sunlight between 10 am and 3 pm.
  • Treatment of vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and breastfeeding is safe.
  • Side effects of vitamin D treatment are uncommon but may include nausea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, headache, thirst or needing to pass urine more often.


  1. Osteoporosis Australia. Viewed 14 September 2011, osteoporosis.org.au
  2. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. SAC Opinion Paper 16: Vitamin supplementation in pregnancy. RCOG, 2009
  3. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (US). Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D. Washington DC: National Academy Press, 2010.
  4. Wagner CL, Greer FR. Section on breastfeeding and Committee on Nutrition. Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children and adolescents. Pediatrics 2008; 122; 1142–52.

© 2014 Mater Misericordiae Ltd. ACN 096 708 922.

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430154
Last modified 08/8/2017.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 28/2/2014
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