Facts to Know:

Our body can’t make Calcium, so we need to get it from food or supplements. Calcium is necessary for maintenance of healthy pregnancy and better development of the newborn. The bone development of the baby in the womb needs Calcium from the mother’s body. The Calcium available from food is insufficient to meet this demand, and thus more Calcium needs to be given from outside. It has been estimated that daily Calcium requirement increases to 1200 mg during pregnancy.

If the mother does not have adequate dietary Calcium before conceiving and during the pregnancy, significant maternal bone density could be lost, possibly putting her at risk for osteoporosis in her later life.

Breast feeding mother over a three-month period of lactation, loses approximately 3% of her body’s Calcium stores. The daily transfer of Calcium from the mother to her baby during lactation ranges from 250 mg to 300 mg and has been observed to be as high as 1,000 mg/day.

The 80% of this Calcium amount is acquired during the 3rd trimester while the baby’s skeleton is rapidly developing. Low Calcium intake affects baby’s skeletal bone development.

Why Do I Need to Add Calcium in My Pregnancy Nutrition List?

Calcium is a nutrient needed for the overall health. Almost all cells in our body use Calcium in some or the other way. Calcium helps in the following function:

  • Building strong teeth and bones
  • Allows blood to clot normally
  • Enzyme and hormone functioning
  • Helps in muscles and nerves function

Most of the Calcium in our body is stored inside the bones, which provide support for normal functioning of the body. When blood Calcium levels are low, the body utilizes Calcium stored in the bones. As we age, we absorb less and less Calcium from our diet, causing our bodies to take more and more Calcium from our bones.

The total amount of Calcium in blood decreases gradually throughout pregnancy, as intestinal absorption of Calcium is doubled from as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy. Therefore, additional Calcium consumption should be encouraged, especially during pregnancy and lactation.

The average Calcium demand of a developing baby in a womb is 30 g by the end of pregnancy. 80% of this Calcium amount is acquired during the 3rd trimester while the baby’s skeleton is rapidly developing. The average Calcium transfer to the baby during pregnancy is 50 mg/day during the 2nd trimester and 250 mg/day during the 3rd trimester.

During lactation, Calcium concentration is independent of mother’s dietary Calcium intake. The daily transfer of Calcium from the mother to her baby during lactation ranges from 250 mg to 300 mg and has been observed to be as high as 1,000 mg/day. With a summation of this transfer, the mother could lose 25 to 30 g of Calcium over a three-month period of lactation, representing approximately 3% of her body’s Calcium stores.

If the mother does not have adequate dietary Calcium before conceiving and during the pregnancy, significant maternal bone density could be lost, possibly putting her at risk of osteoporosis later in life. Additionally, low Calcium intake could lead to the delay of the fetal skeletal development and low Calcium concentration in breast milk.

What if I Don't Take Calcium During Pregnancy?

A growing baby needs a considerable amount of Calcium to develop. If we do not consume enough Calcium to sustain the needs of the developing baby, our body will take Calcium from our bones, decreasing our bone mass and putting us at risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis initiate dramatic thinning of the bone, resulting in weak, brittle bones that break easily.

Pregnancy is a critical time for a woman to consume more Calcium. Even if no problems develop during pregnancy, an inadequate supply of Calcium at this time can diminish bone strength and increase risk of osteoporosis later in life.

Low Calcium intake during pregnancy also shows an effect on the unborn baby and is associated with:

  • Reduced bone mineral content in newborns
  • Decreased fetal femur bone length
  • Effect on overall skeletal bone development

Both pregnancy and breastfeeding cause changes in, and place extra demands on, women’s bodies. Some of these may affect our bones too, though most women may not experience bone problems during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Nevertheless, taking care of our bone health is especially important during pregnancy and breastfeeding, for the good health of both the mother and the baby.

Who Need to Take Calcium During Pregnancy?

Women with the following medical conditions should consider incorporating Calcium supplementation during pregnancy:

  • Mother-to-be with chronic autoimmune disorders
  • Pregnant women with genetic Osteoporosis
  • Women on low-molecular-weight heparin therapy during pregnancy
  • Lactose intolerant women or women who prefer to skip milk and milk products due to personal preference

Recommended dietary allowance for Indian pregnant women is 1200 mg/d Calcium in addition to dietary intake for reducing risk in pregnancy.

The recommended amount of Calcium intake during pregnancy and lactation helps in healthy outcomes both for mother and child. Before starting supplementation, it is recommended to consult your doctor, as the need for Calcium- its type, intake and dose vary from person to person.

Where Can You Look for Calcium?

A good source of Calcium includes:

  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream
  • Dark green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach and collard greens.
  • Tofu, soya and corn tortillas
  • Foods fortified with Calcium, such as orange juice, cereals, and bread
  • Sesame seeds, dried figs, dried apricots, almonds, Brazil nuts
  • Salmon (RaWas) with bones

In addition, your doctor probably will prescribe a multivitamin and mineral supplement to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Consult your doctor before starting any kind of Calcium supplementation.

Disclaimer: For further information, contact your treating physician/doctor. The information provided here is not a recommendation for the treatment of disease. Please consult your doctor before starting any remedies.

References:

1. Heringhausen, J., and Montgomery, K. (2005). Maternal Calcium Intake and Metabolism During Pregnancy and Lactation. Journal of Perinatal Education, 14(1), 52–57. doi:10.1624/105812405X23621

2. Young, B., McNanley, T., Cooper, E., McIntyre, A., Witter, F., Harris, Z., and O'Brien, K. (2012). Maternal vitamin D status and calcium intake interact to affect fetal skeletal growth in utero in pregnant adolescents. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95 , 1103–1112.