Calcium is an essential mineral you need to build and maintain strong bones. When you’re pregnant, you’re not only maintaining your own healthy skeleton, you’re building a new one from scratch for your baby! Learn how to make sure you’re getting all the calcium you need.
How Calcium Benefits Your Baby
Calcium doesn’t only grow your baby’s tooth buds and bones. Nerves, heart, and muscles need calcium to develop properly, too. Calcium even plays a role in developing the steady heart rhythm you love to hear at prenatal appointments.
Keeping up with calcium is good for you during pregnancy, too. Besides benefiting your teeth and bones, calcium can reduce your risk of complications like hypertension or preeclampsia.
What Happens If I Don’t Get Enough Calcium?
Your body can produce vitamin D (with sufficient sunlight) and small amounts of vitamin K, but it can’t make calcium. You need to get it from calcium-rich foods in your diet or through supplements. Fail to take in enough, and the deficiency will hit you harder than your developing baby.
When you’re pregnant, you may wonder how your baby’s arrival will reshape your schedule and priorities. In fact, you’re already putting your baby first! Your body directs nutrients from food you eat toward your placenta and fetus before processing vitamins and minerals for you, which means your baby may end up hoarding the lion’s share of calcium.
If there isn’t enough calcium even after giving the growing baby first dibs, your body will reach out to the next-best plentiful source of the mineral: your skeleton. Drawing calcium from your bones to redirect to the baby weakens them, increasing your chances of osteoporosis, a form of bone loss, later on.
“Okay!” you’re saying. “I’m convinced! But you haven’t told me exactly how much calcium I need while pregnant, or where to get calcium if I can’t drink milk.”
Calcium-Rich Foods for Pregnancy
If you’ve been diligent about meeting your 1,000 mg daily requirement of calcium per day before pregnancy, good news! You can keep doing what you’re doing. Your body adjust to absorb calcium from your diet more effectively during pregnancy, so the recommended amount you should take in doesn’t change. Here are some tasty ways to get to 1,000 mg:
- 8 oz. milk: 300 mg
- 6 oz. plain, low-fat yogurt: 310 mg
- 1 oz cheese, such as cheddar, American, or part-skim mozzarella: about 200 mg
- 2 tbsp shredded Parmesan: about 100 mg
- Orange (whole): 55 mg
- 3 oz. canned salmon with bones: 180 mg
- 3 oz. canned sardines with bones: 325 mg (try cooking in tomato sauce to mellow the flavor)
- 4 oz. cooked broccoli: 30 mg
- 4 oz. kale or spinach: 90 mg (try adding it to a smoothie)
- 8 oz. fortified orange juice: 300 mg
- 8 oz. fortified almond milk or other non-dairy milk: 300 mg
- 2 fortified frozen waffles: 200 mg
It’s entirely possible to get the calcium you need from your diet, so don’t jump to take a supplement unless your doctor recommends one for you. Getting too much calcium can even be harmful. Excessive calcium can cause constipation (which is already a common pregnancy woe) and possibly interfere with your body’s ability to absorb other needed minerals like iron and zinc. The recommended upper limit for pregnant and breastfeeding adults is 2,500 mg, so be mindful of how much your calcium supplement contains, if you’re taking one.
Looking for calcium-rich treats is a healthy step for you and your baby during pregnancy (as if you needed another reason to reach for a scoop of ice cream). Turn to low-sugar, high-nutrient sources at least most of the time, and enjoy helping your baby grow!