Calcium is one of the most important nutrients for our body to build strong bones and teeth, and it helps our nerves and muscles to function properly and our blood to clot normally.
Pregnant women need more of it, because the baby they are carrying needs calcium to develop bones, so if the mother doesn’t consume enough to sustain the baby’s needs, the baby will take calcium from the mother’s bones.
This has a negative effect on the mother’s health as the bones get thinner and brittle and can be easily broken. There is a long term risk of osteoporosis later in life. It is critical for pregnant women to increase the intake of calcium during pregnancy.
Sources of calcium
Traditional top sources of calcium are dairy products including milk, cheese, yogurt, cream soups, and pudding. It can also be found in many non-dairy foods like fish and seafood, green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, greens, as well as soy, beans and dried peas.
Sometimes it can be found in calcium fortified drinks like orange juice or soy milk for example, but you need to check the labels for those.
How much calcium is good?
Most women don’t take nearly enough of this important mineral, so you are well advised to follow these recommended guidelines. The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) for calcium is 1200 to 1500 mg for pregnant women under age 24, and for women over 24, the recommended daily intake is 1200 mg.
This means at least four servings of dairy products and calcium rich foods a day. It is important to continue taking increased amounts of calcium after having the baby too, during the breastfeeding period and later, in order to strengthen your bones.
If you are lactose intolerant, you can’t take dairy products but you can still get your calcium. For example, try taking small amounts of milk with food as you might tolerate it better if it is taken with something else. Also, try cheeses with less sugar. Increase your intake of non-dairy calcium sources like greens, sardines and tofu.
Lactose intolerant moms are not left behind in this, as algae calcareas is very rich in calcium and they can regulate their calcium intake by adding calcium supplements to an already healthy diet.
If you have trouble consuming enough calcium via food sources, due to lactose intolerance for example, you might want to consult your doctor and your dietitian about adding a calcium supplement. The amount you will need will depend on the amount you are already taking through food.
It is important to know that your body can only absorb about 500 mg of calcium at a time, so you will have to take supplemental calcium in smaller doses throughout the day. Also, the complete calcium intake should not exceed 2500 mg a day (including food, supplements and water) since too much calcium can cause constipation, increase your risk of kidney stones, and hinder your body’s absorption of iron and zinc from foods.
It is probably best to consult a dietitian about your calcium intake during pregnancy, but keep in mind you will also have to get enough sun as vitamin D helps your body use calcium. So, grab your favorite fruit yogurt and get out in the park to catch some sunshine and enjoy your day.