The aims of the present study were to determine compliance with current advice on vitamin D and to assess the influence of season, dietary intake, supplement use and deprivation on vitamin D status in pregnant mothers and newborns in the north of Scotland where sunlight exposure is low. Pregnant women (n 1205) and their singleton newborns were studied in the Aberdeen Maternity Hospital (latitude 57°N) between 2000 and 2006. Plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D2 and 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 were measured at 19 weeks of gestation in mothers and at delivery in newborns. During pregnancy, 21·0 (95 % CI 18·5, 23·5) % of women took vitamin D supplements. The median intake was 5 μg/d and only 0·6 (95 % CI 0·1, 1·0) % took the recommended 10 μg/d. Supplement use, adjusted for season, dietary intake and deprivation, significantly increased maternal 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) by 10·5 (95 % CI 5·7, 15·2) nmol/l (P< 0·001); however, there was no significant effect on cord 25(OH)D (1·4 (95 % CI − 1·8, 4·5) nmol/l). The biggest influence on both maternal and cord 25(OH)D was season of birth (P< 0·001). Compared with the least deprived women (top three deciles), the most deprived pregnancies (bottom three deciles) were characterised by a significantly lower seasonally adjusted 25(OH)D ( − 11·6 (95 % CI − 7·5, − 15·7) nmol/l in the mother and − 5·8 (95 % CI − 2·3, − 9·4) nmol/l in the cord), and a lower level of supplement use (10 (95 % CI 4, 17) v. 23 (95 % CI 20, 26) %). More should be done to promote vitamin D supplement use in pregnancy but the critical importance of endogenous vitamin D synthesis, and known adaptations of fat metabolism specific to pregnancy, suggest that safe sun advice may be a useful additional strategy, even at high latitude.