Today, there’s countless evidence that osteoporosis is a highly preventable disease, yet more and more women still fail to consume the right amount of nutrients necessary to build and strengthen their bones.
Calcium is one of the most important minerals for bone health and getting enough of it not only boost your health but your developing baby too.
Pregnancy: Having extra calcium during pregnancy is beneficial for both you and your baby.
A study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology (Gynaecology) showed that babies whose mothers took 2000 mg of calcium supplements daily during second and third trimester have 15 percent higher bone density than infants whose mothers took placebos.
While experts are uncertain about the long-term effect of this gain to the baby’s growth and development, they believe that the higher calcium reserves may protect the child from high blood pressure and osteoporosis later in life.
Calcium is most important on your 30th week of pregnancy, when your baby's bones begin to harden. This is the time when your body ‘steal' your calcium reserves to give it to her.
If you have low calcium in your body, your bones begin to release it into your bloodstream – and this doesn’t sound good for your own bones. While your baby will develop stronger bones, you are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis[i].
Aside from keeping healthy bones and teeth, calcium also reduces the risk of preeclampsia and high blood pressure.
Breastfeeding: Studies have revealed that women lose 3 to 5 percent of their bone mass during breastfeeding and this may be due to the baby’s rapid increase in calcium need, which is sourced from the mother’s bones.
The amount of calcium a mother need varies depending on the demand for breast milk and the duration of breastfeeding. Women could also lose bone mass due to low oestrogen estrogen levels while breastfeeding, as this hormone protects the bones.
How Much Calcium Should I Take?
Our body cannot produce calcium, so it has to be sourced from your diet or from supplements. During pregnancy, calcium absorption increases.
A dietary intake of 1200mg per day of calcium for pregnant women is recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization.
What to Eat
Milk and dairy products such as yogurt and cheese are among the best sources of calcium.
One cup of milk, a 200-ml calcium-fortified soymilk or a 200g tub of yogurt contains about 300mg calcium. Calcium-fortified milk offers higher amounts of calcium in a smaller volume, providing up to 400mg per 200ml milk.
But what if you are lactose intolerant to dairy foods or adherent of the vegan or paleo diet?
The good news is, there are many rich non-dairy dietary sources of calcium that you can incorporate in your pregnancy and post-pregnancy diet.
- Leafy green vegetables such as collards, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, Bok Choy, and spinach are good sources of calcium. A cup of cooked broccoli provides about 45mg of calcium, with higher absorption rate at 50 to 60 percent.
- Fish such as salmon and sardines are rich sources too. A half cup of canned salmon has about 402 mg of calcium.
- Seeds and nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts and tahini (sesame seed paste). You can get 40mg of calcium from 15 pieces of almonds.
- Calcium-fortified foods such as fruit juices, breakfast cereals, and bread. Always check the labels to be sure.
How About Calcium Supplements?
If you do take calcium tablets, be sure not to exceed the recommended dosage. Excessive calcium can cause digestive upsets such as constipation and bloating.
Although nothing beats dietary calcium, you might have to consider taking calcium supplements if you have health issues or difficulties consuming sufficient calcium from food.
Remember to always discuss with your healthcare provider first.