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Calcium During Pregnancy

  • Melanie Haiken, M.A.
  • Posted March 11, 2013

Why should I be concerned about calcium?

Calcium is important for both you and your growing baby. Your baby needs it to grow strong, healthy bones, teeth, nerves, heart, and muscles and to develop normal heart rhythm and blood clotting. If you don't get enough calcium in your diet, the fetus will leach it from your bones, which may impair your own health later on.

How much of it do I need?

All adults -- male and female -- need at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, while those over 50 should boost their daily intake to 1,200 mg. Pregnant and nursing women over 18 years old also need 1,000 mg daily. Those under 18 need slightly more, about 1,300 mg a day.

Even when you're done with pregnancy and nursing, keep up the calcium -- it can ward off osteoporosis (bone loss) later in life.

How do I get more calcium into my diet?

The best sources of calcium, hands down, are dairy products. But there are surprising amounts of calcium in many tofu products as well as nuts, beans, and some green vegetables. Yogurt supplies one of the best sources, with 415 mg per 8-ounce serving. Milk, ricotta cheese, and some other cheeses, are also excellent sources. You can derive quite a bit of calcium from tofu, canned salmon, and even many greens like turnip greens, broccoli, and kale.

What if I'm having trouble eating well due to nausea?

There are some good ways to sneak calcium into your diet, thanks to the fact that more and more foods are being fortified with the mineral. These foods, which are usually enriched with calcium carbonate or other calcium fortifiers, are an excellent way to get the calcium you need every day, especially if you are vegan, lactose-intolerant, or just plain picky.

Read the labels to determine which brands are calcium fortified. Some good sources of calcium-enriched foods are vegetable juice, orange juice, soy milk, and some cereals, cereal bars, and frozen waffles.

What if I'm lactose intolerant?

Even if you're lactose intolerant, you may find you don't need to give up all dairy products. Not only are dairy products the best, most efficient source of calcium, but they are good suppliers of protein, too. Research shows that as many as half the people who have trouble digesting lactose (the sugar in milk) may tolerate up to 8 ounces of milk at mealtimes.

Here are a few ways to work dairy products into your diet, even if your body is not entirely lactose-friendly:

  • Drink milk with nondairy foods. It's easier to digest when mixed with other foods.
  • Eat yogurt. This can be a great alternative to milk.
  • Look for lactose-reduced milk, which is more readily available than it used to be. Or you can buy enzyme supplements (lactase), which you can add to your milk to break down the lactose, making it easier to digest.
  • Choose processed or hard, aged cheeses. Processed cheeses have more than half the lactose removed during processing. Hard, aged cheeses also have less lactose than softer cheeses.
  • Eat smaller portions. Try drinking only 1/2 cup of milk, especially lactose-reduced milk, at a time. Spread it out, drinking the smaller amounts four times a day with meals or snacks.

Should I take a calcium supplement?

A good multivitamin or prenatal vitamin should include at least 150 to 200 mg of calcium. You can also try a calcium supplement such as calcium carbonate, a type easily absorbed by the body, especially when taken with food (just make sure not to take more than 500 milligrams at a time). Or do this test: Place the supplement in a glass of warm water and stir it occasionally. Time how quickly it dissolves. If 30 minutes pass and it hasn't dissolved, try another brand.

References

March of Dimes. Calcium. January 2007 http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/159_9472.asp

National Osteoporosis Foundation. Calcium Supplements. http://www.nof.org/prevention/calcium_supplements.htm

Texas Department of State Health Services. Calcium: Important at Every Age. http://www.tdh.state.tx.us/OSTEO/calcium.htm

Center for Womens Health. Nutrition & Pregnancy. http://www.centerforwomenshealth.com/pregnancy.htm

Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes. http://www.iom.edu/Object.File/Master/21/372/0.pdf

Swedish Medical Center. Calcium Fortified Foods: Choosing Them Carefully. http://www.swedish.org/16471.cfm

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/calcium.asp

United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/chapter2.htm

Nemours Foundation. Lactose Intolerance. November 2009. http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/nutrition/lactose_intolerance.html

University of Arizona, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. Calorie and Calcium Content of Selected Foods. http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/health/az1128/

Harvard Medical School. What you need to know about calcium. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/What_you_need_to_know_about_calcium.htm

Office of Dietary Supplements. Calcium. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/calcium.asp

Mayo Clinic. Pregnancy nutrition: Essential nutrients when you are eating for two. May 2009. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pregnancy-nutrition/PR00110

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