Calcium for Your Pregnancy: Why It's Crucial
Out of all the minerals we need for a healthy life, calcium gets the most attention. How many TV commercials or food packages have you seen bragging about how their product “builds strong bones”? Probably quite a few.
There’s a reason we talk so much about calcium: it just so happens to be the mineral you have the most of in your entire body. (That should clue you in on the large role it plays).
You probably have heard of the importance of folic acid during pregnancy, but when a woman is pregnant, her need for calcium goes up – both for the baby’s sake and for her own.
Let’s take a closer look at why proper calcium intake is so important for a healthy pregnancy and a couple ways that you can ensure you are getting enough.
What Does Calcium Do For You and Your Baby
Most of your calcium is stored in your bones and your teeth – which isn’t all that surprising. When we talk about getting enough calcium, we are often talking about bone and teeth health.
But the list of things calcium does for our bodies is actually quite long. Calcium:
- Builds bone mass
- Protects bones
- Build teeth
- Protects teeth
- Helps with blood clotting
- Plays a role in the release of hormones
- Helps with heartbeat
- Transmits nerve signals
- Helps muscles work properly
- Improves blood vessels
- Keeps blood pressure at the right spot
When it comes to a developing baby, these calcium characteristics are extremely important for their foundational health.
Two Huge Reasons You Need More Calcium During Pregnancy
Why is it so important to boost your levels of calcium while pregnant? Two main reasons:
1. Prevent Calcium Leaching (AKA: Your baby steals your calcium)
Here’s the interesting fact: while calcium is an essential nutrient that every human needs in fairly large amounts, nobody actually makes it on their own.
If we aren’t consuming enough calcium for our body to work properly, it cannot just make a little extra. It resorts to stealing. Our bodies will leach the necessary calcium from our bones and teeth.
A growing baby will do exactly the same thing to your bones and teeth as well – it will take whatever calcium it needs
A pregnant woman gives somewhere between 50 and 330 mg of her own calcium to the fetus each day. If you don’t consume enough to cover those milligrams and your own calcium needs, your teeth and your bones will do the providing.
This calcium leaching will negatively impact your health in your later years as bones naturally become more brittle and bone loss becomes prevalent. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, around 80% of osteoporosis cases are women.
By simply being female, your risk of deteriorated bone health is already high, don’t add to the problem by skimping on calcium while pregnant (or during any time of your life, for that matter!)
2. Prevent High Blood Pressure
Not only will adequate amounts of calcium keep your bones and teeth healthy, but it may also lower your risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy – a dangerous condition characterized by high blood pressure.
How Much Calcium Does a Pregnant Woman Need?
Short answer: Depends on her age. According to the National Institutes of Health, the calcium requirements for pregnant women are as follows:
- A pregnant woman should be getting around 1,000 mg total of calcium per day
- A pregnant teenager needs 1,300 mg of calcium a day
You can get this daily calcium intake need in two ways: through your diet and through a calcium supplement.
Getting Calcium in Your Diet the Delicious Way
Proper nutrition and getting the essential vitamins during pregnancy is the big game changer. We all know that dairy is a great source of dietary calcium. Some of the best calcium-rich choices include:
- Ricotta cheese
- Low-fat milk
- Mozzarella cheese
- Cheddar cheese
But just about any high-quality dairy product is a good bet.
However, even if you are vegan, lactose intolerant, sensitive to dairy, or simply want to expand your calcium-rich food options, there are plenty of non-dairy items that have the same (if not more!) calcium per serving.
Good sources of non-dairy calcium:
- Collard Greens
- Broccoli Rabe
- Soy beans
- Bok Choy
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Fortified orange juice
It’s actually not that hard to get your food close to or at 1,000 mg even before a supplement. Here is an example for one day (milligrams are approximate):
- 6 ounces of yogurt, a handful of blueberries, and a handful of almonds = 410 mg of calcium
- Spinach and kale salad with curried chickpeas and veggies = 200+ mg of calcium
- Broccoli, okra, and chicken stir-fry over quinoa = 200 mg of calcium
- Orange = 50 mg of calcium
Adding in the RIGHT Amount of Calcium With a Supplement
If you are getting lots of calcium via the foods you eat, you may not need a supplement very high in calcium milligrams. But if you don’t eat many of these foods, or if your doctor believes you are too low in the mineral, you may want to add calcium supplementation.
Most of the time, your prenatal vitamin should take care of your basic calcium needs. If it doesn’t, just grab a bottle of calcium and take it each day along with your prenatal multivitamin.
Be sure your calcium supplement is either calcium carbonate or calcium citrate – they are the best quality with the highest amount of true calcium in it.
Which should you pick: carbonate or citrate? You can always ask your doctor, but if he or she doesn’t have a preference, let their differences make the choice for you:
- Calcium Carbonate: This must be taken with a meal because it relies on your stomach acids to absorb. The big pro of calcium carbonate is that it provides a higher dosage of calcium.
- Calcium Citrate: This choice can be taken any time of day with or without a meal – which is often more convenient for pregnant women, especially those who may have nausea that prevents regular meals.
Pro Tip: The body absorbs calcium supplementation better in small doses. If you need high doses of a calcium supplement, try 500 mg in the morning and 500 mg at night.
Don’t Forget Calcium’s Best Friend, Vitamin D!
We can’t have a discussion about calcium without mentioning the vital role Vitamin D plays.
In order for your body to properly absorb all that extra calcium, you need to have proper levels of Vitamin D.
Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies, even in the United States – chances are, you may be a little low.
This would prevent all that extra calcium you are eating or supplementing from doing its job. You could be eating the right foods, taking the right supplement, and still be lacking in calcium for you and your baby.
Luckily, having low Vitamin D is easy to fix.
Here are a few ways to get the right amount of vitamin D to support that important calcium consumption:
- Go outside: The best way to get more D is to spend a few minutes in the sun each day, so your body can make its own. Just come in well before your skin gets pink or flushed.
- Eat Vitamin D: Fortunately, some of the best sources of vitamin D are also high in calcium, like eggs and cheese. But you can also eat more shiitake mushrooms, fortified cereal, fortified plant-based milk, kale, and spinach.
- Take a supplement: Somewhere around 400 IU of vitamin D is good for a pregnant woman. It’s often found in prenatal vitamins, but be sure you are taking D3 and not D2. D3 is most like the vitamin D your skin produces from the sun.
Calcium While Pregnant and Beyond into Breastfeeding
We now understand exactly how important calcium is during pregnancy…and how to go about getting enough: a healthy pregnancy diet and a calcium supplement.
But it’s also important to understand this extra need for calcium doesn’t stop at delivery. Some of your own calcium will come out with your breast milk.
As long as you are breastfeeding, you will need to keep up your calcium levels. Unless your doctor suggests otherwise, keep to your pregnancy calcium dosage until you are done breastfeeding.
Whether you are pregnant or are thinking about becoming pregnant, pay close attention to consuming adequate calcium starting today. Then don’t stop thinking about it…all women need to be taking good care of their bones to prevent bone loss in their later years.