How Much Calcium Needed During Pregnancy

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Iron and Calcium During Pregnancy

Following a balanced and healthy diet during pregnancy is important both for you and your little one. When you’re carrying a growing baby, your iron and calcium intake is something you’ll need to pay a little extra attention to. Read on to find out how to get the iron and calcium you need, whether it’s from food alone or from food and supplements.

Iron and Calcium During Pregnancy

Why Are Iron and Calcium Important During Pregnancy?

Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin — that’s the substance in your red blood cells that helps carry oxygen to your organs and tissues. When you’re pregnant, your body produces more blood to supply oxygen to your baby, which is why you’ll need to double your iron intake. If you don’t get enough iron, or you’re already low on iron, you could develop iron deficiency anemia, which will not only make you feel more tired in pregnancy, but also, in severe cases, can increase the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and postpartum depression.

Getting enough calcium helps keep your teeth and bones healthy, and helps your baby develop strong teeth and bones, too. What’s more, calcium keeps your circulatory, nervous, and muscular systems running normally.

How Much Iron and Calcium Do I Need During Pregnancy?

When you’re pregnant, you need 27 milligrams of iron daily. Women younger than 19 need 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day, and those 19 and older need 1,000 milligrams each day.

Calcium- and Iron-Rich Foods for Pregnancy

Good sources of iron include poultry, fish, and lean red meat, but you can also get iron from fortified breakfast cereals, beans, peas, and some vegetables, like spinach. Dairy products are the most easy-to-absorb sources of calcium, but you can also get calcium from non-dairy foods like kale, sardines, and broccoli. There are also juices and cereals fortified with calcium. To help you get an idea of foods high in calcium and iron, see the table below. You can use it to gauge what you can eat to get the right nutrients for you and your baby.

Food Serving Size Nutrient Content
Cereal ½ cup (40 g) iron-fortified oats Iron 20 mg
Meat 3 oz. (85 g) roasted lean beef Iron 3 mg
Spinach ½ cup (90 g) boiled spinach Iron/Calcium 3 mg/123 mg
Poultry 3 oz. (85 g) roasted dark turkey Iron 1 mg
Beans ½ cup (88.5 g) boiled kidney beans Iron 2 mg
Cereal 1 cup (20-60 g) calcium-fortified cereal Calcium 100 – 1,000 mg
Juice 1 cup (237 ml) calcium-fortified juice Calcium 349 mg
Milk 1 cup (237 ml) skim milk Calcium 299 mg
Yogurt 6 oz. (170 g) low-fat fruit yogurt Calcium 258 mg

Can I Get Enough Iron and Calcium From Diet Alone in Pregnancy?

Not all dietary sources of iron are created equal. Heme iron, which is found in animal foods like red meat and poultry, is more easily absorbed by the body. If you’re getting your iron from vegetable sources only, you may not be absorbing enough iron. Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you’re at risk of an iron deficiency in pregnancy. You can increase the absorption of iron from vegetable sources by combining it with a vitamin C pill or eating it with fruit, like oranges or strawberries. Low iron during pregnancy has been associated with unusual, non-food cravings for things like ice or dirt. If you experience these cravings, make an appointment with your doctor.

Calcium is easier to get from a balanced diet, even if you’re vegetarian. Just be aware that calcium, when consumed together with iron sources or supplements, can interfere with iron absorption. For example, if you choose to drink orange juice for its vitamin C content to boost the absorption of plant-based iron, then make sure it has not been fortified with calcium, or just make sure you’re getting your calcium and iron at different times during the day.

Healthy plate, Healthy baby!

Do I Need Supplements?

Even if you’re maintaining a balanced diet, you may still be missing some key nutrients, like iron, calcium, or folic acid. Your healthcare provider will be able to test whether any nutrients are lacking and may advise you to take a prenatal vitamin to boost your levels.

If you’re taking a prenatal vitamin, that should give you a portion of the recommended daily amount of iron. However, if your blood work shows you’re iron deficient, your healthcare provider may recommend a separate iron supplement.

With calcium, you may be able to get enough from dietary sources. If you have problems digesting dairy products, you can either increase your calcium intake from other foods, or talk to your doctor about calcium supplements.

Keep in mind, not all foods are safe for moms-to-be. Read our article to learn more about what foods to avoid eating while you’re pregnant.

When Do I Need to Start Taking Supplements?

If you are trying to conceive, consult your healthcare provider about whether you might need to start taking prenatal vitamins now; some experts recommend taking them at least three months before conception. You can also begin taking supplements as soon as you find out you’re pregnant in the first trimester. Just make sure your healthcare provider gives you the green light before taking any nutritional supplements.

What You Need to Know About Taking Iron and Calcium Supplements

If a supplement is recommended for you, your healthcare provider will recommend the best way to take it.

Your provider may suggest taking iron supplements on an empty stomach and with juice or a vitamin C tablet. Black stools are a good sign the iron is being absorbed.

Carefully follow your doctor’s instructions about the amount of iron you should take. If you miss a dose, do not take double to make up for it, as it is possible to overdose on iron. There is nothing to worry about if you follow your doctor’s instructions.

How Much Calcium Needed During PregnancyYou might experience some side effects when taking iron supplements, such as:

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Leg cramps.

Less common symptoms may also include:

  • Darkened urine

  • Heartburn

  • Stained teeth.

When it comes to calcium supplements, it really depends on the type you’re prescribed — some can be taken with food, others without, so ask your doctor for advice. Also, some prescribed calcium can interfere with other medicines, so check with your doctor or pharmacist if this may affect you.

Getting the right amount of iron and calcium during pregnancy is important and your healthcare provider will help you make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you and your baby need. Eating healthily will also help you to keep your pregnancy weight gain on track. For even more information about staying healthy, read up on putting together a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy.

Importance

Calcium is an important nutrient for the body. During pregnancy, you need more calcium for your health and the health and development of the baby growing inside of you.

For Your Baby

Your developing baby needs calcium to form bones and teeth.1 They’re building an entire skeleton, after all. Calcium is also an important nutrient for your baby’s heart, muscles, nerves, and hormones.

For You

During pregnancy, you give your baby all the calcium they need, so when you consume the recommended amount of calcium every day you are taking care of your baby and yourself. If you don’t get enough, you could run into some complications.

Regardless of whether or not you take in enough, your body will still give calcium to your baby. So, if you are not replacing what you’re giving away, you could end up with weakened bones and a greater risk of osteoporosis later in life.2

Complications

Complications are possible as a result of both too little and too much calcium. Luckily, they’re easily preventable.

Too Little Calcium

You probably won’t experience any major pregnancy complications if you don’t consume the recommended amount of calcium each day exactly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKgGgijXiqo

A calcium deficiency is more likely to cause complications if it’s due to a health issue such as a kidney problem, surgery, or the need to take certain medications.

Not consuming enough calcium can lead to:3

  • High blood pressure during pregnancy
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Numbness and tingling in the fingers
  • Slow growth of the baby
  • The baby not getting enough calcium in the bones
  • Heart problems
  • Muscle and leg cramps
  • A poor appetite
  • In rare cases, increased risk of bone fractures.2

In severe and rare cases, too little calcium could lead to death. While, understandably, many of these complications are a cause for worry, remember that you are likely to get some calcium without even trying. Plus, you should have enough stored in your bones to provide for your growing baby.

In the case that you do have any health issues listed that are more likely to lead to too little calcium, your doctor will be well aware and working closely with you to prevent any complications.

Too Much Calcium

It is rare to get too much calcium from the foods that you eat. You are most likely to take in an excessive amount of calcium if you use supplements.4

It’s important to understand which nutrients and how much of each nutrient is in your prenatal vitamin and any other supplements that you take. You may be getting extra without even knowing it.

It’s always best to talk to your doctor about any vitamins that you are taking or considering, so you get what you need without taking too much. If you are 19 or older, you do not want to take more than 2,500mg of calcium each day, and if you are 18 or younger, you do not want to go over 3,000 mg daily.4

Ingesting too much calcium can cause:4

  • Constipation
  • Kidney stones
  • Possibly trouble absorbing other minerals, such as iron and zinc
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Low calcium in the baby’s body5

Sources

Your body does not make calcium, so you have to get it from food, fortified products, and supplements.

Food Sources

Four servings of fortified milk or other fortified dairy products will fulfill your daily calcium requirement by giving you about 1,200mg (approximately 300mg per serving). A glass of fortified orange juice has the same amount at about 300mg per serving. Other foods such as greens, nuts, and beans have a little less (about 100mg per serving).

Make sure the dairy products you eat are pasteurized and talk to your doctor about the type of milk and dairy products that are best. Low-fat and non-fat milk contains all the calcium and nutrients of whole milk without the extra fat and calories. However, your doctor will advise you on the best choice based on whether you are underweight, within the recommended weight range, or overweight.

The serving sizes and calcium content listed below are averages provided by the USDA.

Dairy products that are a great source of calcium include:6

  • Milk (1 cup, whole, 276mg calcium).
  • Cheese (2 slices or 1.5 ounces, 307mg calcium)
  • Yogurt (8 ounces, plain, low fat, 415mg calcium)
  • Kefir (1 cup, lowfat, 316mg calcium)7

Other foods rich in calcium include:8

  • Collard greens (1 cup cooked, 268mg calcium)
  • Kale (1 cup cooked, 177mg calcium)
  • Broccoli (1 cup cooked, 64mg calcium)
  • Bok choy (1 cup cooked, 158mg calcium)
  • Soybeans (1 cup cooked, 184mg calcium)
  • Baked beans (1 cup cooked, 160mg calcium)
  • Almonds (1 cup, roasted, salted, 370mg calcium)
  • Salmon (6 oz, 15mg calcium)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7F5TomSZ9ac

Please note that while fish is considered healthy during pregnancy, there are some caveats to consuming it. In general, pregnant women are advised to avoid larger fish that are known to have higher levels of mercury, such as swordfish and king mackerel.9

Common calcium-fortified products include:8

  • English Muffin (1 muffin, 100mg calcium)
  • Waffle (2 pieces, 200mg calcium)
  • Calcium Fortified Orange juice (1 cup, 349mg calcium)
  • Cereal (1 cup, 100-1,000mg calcium)

Be sure to check the product’s packaging for labeling that indicates it’s been fortified with calcium.

Diet Tips

If you enjoy dairy and can easily consume four servings a day (8 ounces per serving), then you’ll have no problem reaching your daily goals. But, if you aren’t a big fan of straight dairy, there are preparation methods that you may enjoy more than just drinking a cup of milk or eating a cup of yogurt.

Here are a few easy options to help you get what you need.

  • Have cereal in the morning. Enjoying a bowl of cold cereal or hot cereal/oatmeal made with milk is a great way to start the day.
  • Make it a latte. Add a little extra milk into your morning coffee or tea.
  • Top it with cheese. Add a little bit of cheese to your salads, soups, and other dishes.
  • Make it creamy. Add some milk or evaporated milk to your recipes and make creamy soups, sauces, casseroles, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and other delicious dishes.
  • Substitute some dairy in your cooking. Use milk instead of water to cook noodles, pasta, rice, oatmeal, or other foods.
  • Change your regular order. Have a glass of milk or chocolate milk with lunch or dinner instead of a soda or another beverage. In colder weather, enjoy a hot chocolate made with milk instead of water.
  • Add it as a snack. Fill the fridge with cut-up cheese cubes, string cheese, or flavored yogurt so they’re ready and easy to grab when you need a little bite to eat.
  • Have a treat. Enjoy a bowl of ice cream or frozen yogurt, a small milkshake, yogurt and fruit smoothie, or some pudding for dessert.

Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Vegetarian and vegan diets can be very healthy. But if you choose to follow one, you’ll need to understand a little about nutrition to be sure you’re getting all the vitamins that your body needs. Getting the right nutrition is even more important when you’re pregnant.

There are different types of vegetarian diets. How much calcium you get and how much of it you absorb depends on what you eat. If you follow a lacto-ova vegetarian diet, you can have eggs, milk, and cheese. So, on this plan, you should be able to get enough calcium each day.

It may be more challenging to meet the daily recommendation for calcium if you follow a strict vegan or plant-based diet.

On a vegan diet, you do not consume any milk or dairy products. Plus, some plants interfere with how well your body absorbs calcium. That doesn’t mean you can’t get enough calcium in your diet if you’re a vegan—it just means you have to know the right foods to choose from.

Vegan sources of calcium include:8

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Navy beans (1 cup boiled, 126mg calcium)
  • Almonds (1 cup, 370mg calcium)
  • Sesame seeds (1 cup, 1,400mg calcium)
  • Tahini (2 tbp, 310mg calcium)
  • Raisins (1/4 cup, 20mg calcium)

Commonly fortified products include:6

  • Tofu, firm, with calcium sulfate (1/2 cup, 253mg calcium)
  • Soy milk (1 cup, 299mg calcium)
  • Rice milk (1 cup, 283mg calcium)10

If you are having trouble getting the calcium you need through your diet alone, you should talk to your doctor about a vegetarian or vegan calcium supplement.

Lactose Intolerance

If you don’t tolerate dairy products well, you can still get the calcium you need through other foods, non-dairy alternatives, and fortified products.

If you are lactose intolerant you can try:

  • Lactose-free milk and cheese fortified with calcium
  • Dairy products with reduced lactose
  • Lactase tablets that you take before having dairy

If you just don’t like the taste of milk you can:

  • Try cheese, yogurt, or other dairy products
  • Drink fortified orange juice
  • Disguise the taste of milk by using in shakes, puddings, and other recipes

You can also enjoy vegan-friendly sources of calcium. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your diet, especially if you’re really having trouble getting enough calcium. You may need to take a supplement.

Supplements

Prenatal vitamins, along with other vitamin and mineral supplements that your doctor recommends, are a great way to fill in any nutrition gaps.

How Much Calcium Needed During PregnancyRemember that supplements are only meant to add to a healthy diet, not replace it.

You should still be doing your best to eat right and get the nutrition you need each day.

When to Take Them

If you are not getting what you need in your daily diet, you may need to take a supplement,11 especially if you’re having trouble getting enough calcium because of:

  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Lactose intolerance
  • A diet that doesn’t include dairy products
  • Health conditions such as IBS or celiac disease

Supplements are also usually recommended if you are at risk of developing preeclampsia or gestational hypertension.12

Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement on your own. While you want to be sure you’re getting enough calcium, you’ll also want to be sure that you aren’t getting too much.

Let your doctor know if you are already taking an over-the-counter prenatal vitamin, calcium supplement, or antacid. Your doctor will advise you about the safest supplements or provide you with a prescription for what you need.

Types of Calcium Supplements

Calcium supplements include: 4

  • Prenatal vitamins: While they usually contain a little calcium, it’s not enough to cover your daily requirement. You will still have to get calcium through your diet. Different brands have different amounts of vitamins and minerals, so check the label and talk to your doctor.
  • Calcium citrate: Your doctor may recommend a calcium citrate supplement if you are having trouble getting enough calcium or you are at risk for high blood pressure in pregnancy.
  • Calcium carbonate: Calcium carbonate is the active ingredient in some antacids such as Tums. Let your doctor know if you use Tums to relieve heartburn and follow your doctor’s advice on how to take it. Depending on how many times you take Tums each day and your overall diet, you could be getting too much calcium.

Potential Side Effects

Outside of the potential complications caused by too much calcium, in general, taking calcium supplements may cause you to experience gas, bloating, and constipation.4 If you do have these side effects, it may be worth trying a different brand, tweaking your diet to reduce gas-causing foods, or finding methods that can ease these side effects.

Vitamin D 

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for many reasons. One of the things that it does is help your body absorb calcium.13 Vitamin D and calcium work hand-in-hand to promote strong bones.

During pregnancy, experts recommend that you get 600 IU of vitamin D each day.

Your body uses sunlight to make vitamin D naturally. But, you can also get vitamin D from some foods or a supplement.

To get the vitamin D you need each day, you can:13

  • Spend a little time in the sun. Sunlight converts a chemical in your skin to vitamin D.
  • Consume fortified products. Many calcium-rich foods are also fortified with vitamin D such as milk, orange juice, cereal, yogurt, and eggs.
  • Take your prenatal vitamin. Most prenatal vitamins contain vitamin D. But, be sure to read the label and check with your doctor.
  • Ask about a vitamin supplement. You should talk to your doctor before taking any additional supplements. It’s important to get enough vitamin D, but too much could be dangerous.

How Caffeine Affects Calcium

Caffeine can act as a diuretic and make you have to urinate more. An increase in urination may cause some calcium to leave your body. This loss should be very small, however, if you stay within the recommended guidelines for caffeine during pregnancy.14

A Word From Verywell

The best way to be sure that you’re getting all the calcium and other nutrients that you need is to eat well. A balanced diet will keep you healthy during your pregnancy, provide your baby with what they need to grow and develop, give you strength and energy for childbirth, and encourage successful milk production once your child is born.

Dairy products are considered some of the best sources of calcium, but they aren’t your only choice. If you’re lactose intolerant, don’t eat animal products, or you just don’t like milk, you can still get enough calcium without dairy.

When you see a doctor at your prenatal appointments, talk about your diet and your concerns. Your doctor can advise you on the best way to meet your daily needs.

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