A: I’m so sorry about your tooth! Although women do lose some bone during lactation (to provide calcium for human milk)—even if they have a high intake of calcium—they’re likely to bounce back and experience an increase in bone density after weaning. During lactation—and at all times during a woman’s life—it’s important to continue to consume adequate calcium to support the health of bones and teeth. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium for all women between the ages of 19 and 50 (pregnant, non-pregnant, or breastfeeding) is 1,000 mg/day. Although the amount of calcium absorbed from foods decreases as we get older, it increases during pregnancy. (Maternal calcium resorption increases during lactation. That means that the mom’s bones actually break down and release calcium into the bloodstream. Also, the kidneys secrete less calcium in the urine, so the nursing mother doesn’t waste any of that precious mineral.)
Calcium is naturally found in a wide variety of foods, and is best absorbed from milk, yogurt, and cheese. A typical 8 ounce cup of yogurt has about 400 or more grams of calcium; one cup of milk has about 300 milligrams of calcium. Other good or excellent sources of highly absorbable calcium include canned fish with bones; vegetables such as Brussels sprouts; kale and broccoli; and soy foods such as tofu and soy milk made with calcium. Calcium is also added to a variety of foods such as orange juice, ready-to-eat cereals, breads and other foods and beverages, though absorption rates vary. If you don’t consume enough or any dairy foods, you can round out your calcium needs with fortified foods and calcium supplements. It’s wise to discuss your individual needs with an MD or a registered dietitian.
Although calcium is key for the health of bones and teeth, it doesn’t work alone. It relies on vitamin D and phosphorus, and it’s therefore important to get enough of those nutrients as well. The RDA for vitamin D for all women aged 19 to 50 (whether pregnant, not pregnant, or lactating) is 600 IU/day (though many experts recommend more since many are vitamin D-deficient). Sources of vitamin D include sunlight and foods and beverages including salmon, sardines, tuna, milk, eggs, and some fortified foods. The RDA for phosphorus is 700 mg/day. Sources include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products; nuts and legumes are also good sources of phosphorus, though it’s more highly absorbed from animal foods.