Whether it’s prenatal vitamins or calcium supplements, a pregnant woman (or man) should be sure to get 1,200 mg of calcium every day during pregnancy. The recommended amount of calcium to take for a healthy pregnancy is 1,500 mg per day. How much is 1,500 mg of calcium? If you’re pregnant and have never heard this recommended amount before, you might be wondering what this looks like in nature.
Get the Calcium You Need During Pregnancy
Calcium is essential whether or not you’re pregnant, but for moms-to-be, it’s particularly vital. Not only does this all-star mineral build your baby’s bones, it also helps maintain your skeletal health.That’s important, since if you aren’t consuming enough calcium for your growing baby, your body will deplete its own stores — placing you at high risk for bone loss during pregnancy and upping your risk of osteoporosis later in life.
So how do you make sure you’re getting plenty of calcium during pregnancy — besides snacking on cheese and sipping on milk? And how can pregnant women who don’t eat dairy ensure they’re getting enough of the mineral? Read on to discover how much calcium is recommended during pregnancy, the best calcium-rich food sources, plus how to determine if a calcium supplement might be in order to cover your bases (and bones).
Your body will do whatever it needs to take care of your baby, including stealing. Your body actually takes calcium from your own bones or teeth to give it to your little one. So if you want your bones and teeth to stay strong, you need to get extra calcium while your baby’s growing inside you.
Calcium is one of the key minerals you need during pregnancy—along with other vitamins and minerals, your body provides it to your baby to aid the development of vital structures like the skeleton.
Needs vary by age and too much and too little calcium can cause complications. Keep reading to find out how much calcium you need, why it’s important, and how to make sure you’re getting enough.
What Calcium Does for You
Everyone needs this essential mineral each day. Besides building teeth and bones, calcium also keeps your blood and muscles moving and helps your nerves send messages from your brain to the rest of your body.
Calcium Needs During Pregnancy
Your body can’t make calcium, so you need to get it from food or supplements. While you’re pregnant, try to get at least 1,000 mg of calcium every day. If you’re 18 or younger, then you need at least 1,300 mg of calcium every day.
Why is calcium important during pregnancy?
Calcium helps strengthen your baby’s rapidly-developing bones and teeth, and boosts muscle, heart and nerve development as well. Plus, it’s still as important as ever for your teeth and bones. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take what your baby needs. That’s especially the case during the third trimester, when bone development peaks at 250 to 350 milligrams transferred from you and your baby every day.
Not getting enough calcium during pregnancy makes you more susceptible to osteoporosis, a condition causing brittle bones.Many women recover lost bone mass after pregnancy and breastfeeding, but it’s still a good idea to stay ahead of the game and bone up on calcium during pregnancy.
How much calcium do pregnant women need?
Pregnant women need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day and women 18 and younger need 1,300 milligrams per day. In general, that means you should aim for four servings of calcium-rich foods daily.
Most prenatal vitamins do not contain enough calcium to meet the recommended 1,000 milligrams per day, but dietary sources of calcium add up quickly. For example, scoop up a cup of plain low-fat yogurt with breakfast and sprinkle part-skim mozzarella on whole wheat pasta at dinner, and you’re already more than halfway to your daily dose.
Foods High in Calcium
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are some of the best sources of calcium. Dark, leafy green vegetables also have calcium but in much smaller amounts.
There are plenty of calcium-rich foods for you to choose from.
415 mg: Yogurt, 8 oz, plain low-fat
375 mg: Orange juice, 6 oz of calcium-fortified OJ
325 mg: Sardines, 3 oz canned with bones in oil
307 mg: Cheddar cheese, 1.5 oz
299 mg: Milk, 8 oz nonfat
253 mg: Tofu, 1/2 cup, firm, made with calcium sulfate
181 mg: Salmon, 3 oz canned with bones
100 to 1,000 mg: Cereal, 1 cup of calcium-fortified types
94 mg: Kale, 1 cup, cooked
80 to 500 mg: Soy beverage, 8 oz, calcium-fortified
74 mg: Bok choy, 1 cup, raw
Here are a few examples on how to reach that 1,000 mg goal: Drink 3 cups of milk or calcium-fortified orange juice or choose a cereal that has 1,000 mg of calcium.
What to Know About Calcium Supplements
If you’re allergic to milk, are lactose intolerant, or are vegan, getting enough calcium from food can be difficult. If you don’t get enough from food, your doctor may recommend a calcium supplement.
- Calcium carbonate is less expensive and works best if you take it with food.
- Calcium citrate works just as well with food or on an empty stomach.
Many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium.
Limit to 500 mg at a time. To make sure your body absorbs the most calcium possible, take only 500 mg of calcium at a time. For example, this might mean taking a 500 mg supplement with breakfast and another with dinner.
Breastfeeding needs more calcium, too. You need to continue calcium supplements while you’re breastfeeding. Research shows you may lose 3% to 5% of your bone mass when you nurse because you lose some of your calcium through breast milk. Luckily, if you are careful to eat foods with calcium and take supplements as advised, you should regain that bone mass within 6 months after you stop breastfeeding.
Should you take calcium supplements during pregnancy?
Calcium supplements are generally considered safe for moms-to-be, however, too much calcium from supplements can cause unpleasant side effects like gas or constipation. A calcium-containing prenatal, in combination with sufficient food sources of calcium throughout the day, will usually offer enough of the mineral to support both you and your baby during pregnancy.
If you think your consumption might be low or if you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, pay extra attention to plant sources of calcium — such as dark leafy greens, tofu and nuts — and ask your practitioner if you should consider a supplement. Your healthcare provider may also recommend a calcium supplement if you have inadequate intake and are at risk for developing preeclampsia. If you’re also taking supplemental iron, keep in mind that you should not take calcium at the same time, since it can interfere with iron absorption (wait two hours in between each supplement).
The bottom line: A healthy, well-balanced diet and good prenatal vitamin will generally supply all of your calcium needs during pregnancy. But if you think you might be coming up short — particularly if you’re vegan — discuss supplementation with your practitioner.
Why you need calcium during pregnancy
When you’re pregnant, your developing baby needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps your baby grow a healthy heart, nerves, and muscles as well as develop a normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting abilities. Getting enough calcium in your diet is especially important during the last three months of your pregnancy, when your baby is growing quickly and has the greatest need for calcium.
Calcium can also reduce your risk of hypertension and preeclampsia. And if you don’t get enough calcium in your diet when you’re pregnant, your baby will draw it from your bones, which may impair your own health later.
How much calcium do pregnant women need?
Women need the same amount of calcium whether they’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or neither of these. The amount of calcium women need does vary by age, though:
Women ages 19 to 50: 1000 milligrams (mg) a day
Women 18 and younger: 1300 mg a day
Most American women don’t get nearly enough of this important mineral, so it’s important to get in the habit of having plenty of calcium in your diet even before you get pregnant. Aim to get 3 cups (24 ounces) of dairy products or other calcium-rich foods a day. (See our list of suggestions below.)
Even after your baby’s born, continue to pay attention to your calcium intake. You’ll need this mineral to strengthen bones and prevent bone loss (osteoporosis) later in life.