Are You Getting Enough Calcium During Pregnancy?

Pregnancy and new motherhood are the most important times to be concerned about your calcium intake -- are you getting enough?

8 Ways to Sneak in Calcium

Like most kids, you were likely taught to drink your milk. Stronger bones, better teeth -- your parents probably gave you plenty of reasons to drink up. But now that you're a parent yourself, it may have been a while since you drank the white stuff beyond maybe dumping some in your coffee. Here's what you need to know.

Diet Alternatives

Try these creative tips from the American Dietetic Association:

pregnant in pink half-top at park drinking milk
  1. Cook rice, noodles, hot cereals, and other grains in nonfat milk.
  2. Add nonfat dry milk powder to recipes for creamy soups, stews, casseroles, and sauces.
  3. Substitute nonfat yogurt for sour cream or butter.
  4. Sprinkle low-fat grated cheese on salads, soups, or veggies.
  5. Drink at least one glass of milk with every snack or meal. Get in the habit of ordering low-fat milk instead of soda when you eat out.
  6. Instead of your regular cup of joe in the morning, try a latte, which is made with more milk.
  7. Nosh on string cheese or fill a bag with low-fat cheese cubes for a snack on the go.
  8. Searching for something sweet? Try a glass of chocolate milk instead of candy.

Health Benefits of Calcium

A pregnant woman's need for calcium goes up in the third trimester, when the baby's skeleton is rapidly developing. "The fetal skeleton gets what it needs, no matter what, even if it has to leech essentials from its mother's bones," says Murray Favus, MD, director of the bone program and professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. But nature is on Mom's side too: "A woman's body can sense the increased needs of the fetus and produce more vitamin D. This enables pregnant women and nursing moms to absorb more of the calcium that's in their food," says Ruth Frechman, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, in Los Angeles.

For Mom and Baby

It helps your baby grow and fortifies your breast milk. But calcium also benefits Mom's health:

  • Fewer PMS symptoms. A study at the National Institute of Mental Health found that women who took 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily reduced overall PMS symptoms by more than 50 percent.
  • Less body fat. A study from the University of Tennessee showed that a diet high in low-fat dairy food may spur fat cells to produce less fat.

Good News! Experts say pregnancy can be a great time for bone health. First, you are able to absorb more calcium. Second, your body is creating bone-strengthening estrogen. Finally, a Mom's overall skeleton gets strength training thanks to the weight of her baby.

Should You Take Supplements?

Though the general guideline is 1,000 milligrams a day (the equivalent of three 8-ounce glasses of milk), women who are pregnant or nursing require more -- 1,200 to 1,400 milligrams a day.

If you're concerned about your calcium intake, ask your doctor about supplements. Just don't go overboard. "Too much calcium may interfere with your body's ability to absorb other minerals, cause constipation, or increase your risk of kidney stones," Dr. Favus says.

On the positive side, it's been shown that moms-to-be who took calcium supplements in the second and third trimester gave birth to babies who had a 15 percent increase in bone mineral content over children whose mothers took a placebo. In another study, pregnant women who got about 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily had a lower risk of preeclampsia (a leading cause of premature birth).

Originally published in the October 2006 issue of American Baby magazine.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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