Why you need calcium during pregnancy
When you’re pregnant, your developing baby needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps your baby grow a healthy heart, nerves, and muscles as well as develop a normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting abilities.
Calcium can also reduce your risk of hypertension and preeclampsia. And if you don’t get enough calcium in your diet when you’re pregnant, your baby will draw it from your bones, which may impair your own health later on.
How much calcium you need
Women ages 19 to 50: 1,000 milligrams (mg) a day before, during, and after pregnancy
Women age 18 and younger: 1,300 mg a day before, during, and after pregnancy
Most American women don’t get nearly enough of this important mineral. Aim to get 3 cups of dairy products or other calcium-rich foods a day. (See our list of suggestions below.)
Even after your baby’s born and you’re finished breastfeeding, continue to pay attention to your calcium intake. You’ll need this mineral to strengthen bones and prevent bone loss (osteoporosis) later in life.
Food sources of calcium
Milk and other dairy products are top sources, as are canned fish and calcium-fortified cereal, juice, soy and rice beverages, and bread. Not all brands are fortified, so check labels.
- 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt: 415 mg
- 1.5 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese: 333 mg
- 3 ounces sardines (canned in oil with bone): 325 mg
- 8 ounces low-fat fruit yogurt: 313 to 384 mg
- 8 ounces nonfat milk: 299 mg
- 8 ounces calcium-fortified soy milk: 299 mg
- 8 ounces whole milk: 277 mg
- 6 ounces calcium-fortified orange juice: 261 mg
- 1/2 cup firm, calcium-set tofu: 253 mg
- 3 ounces canned pink salmon, with bones and liquid: 181 mg
- 1 cup cottage cheese (1 percent milk fat): 138 mg
- 1/2 cup vanilla soft-serve frozen yogurt: 103 mg
- 1 cup raw kale, chopped: 100 mg
- 1/2 cup turnip greens, boiled: 99 mg
- 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream: 84 mg
- 1 cup raw bok choy, shredded: 74 mg
- one slice white bread: 73 mg
You may not think of water as a calcium source, but tap and bottled water typically contain varying amounts, with mineral water containing the most calcium. Check with your local water agency to find out how much calcium is in your local tap or well water.
Should you take a supplement?
If you’re taking a prenatal vitamin, you’re probably already getting at least 150 mg of calcium. You could try taking a separate calcium supplement if you aren’t getting enough from your diet, but keep in mind that your body can only absorb up to 500 mg of calcium at a time. So you may need to take your supplemental calcium in smaller doses, several times a day.
(You need vitamin D to absorb calcium so be sure to also get enough vitamin D in your pregnancy diet.) Supplemental calcium comes in different forms, most commonly calcium carbonate and calcium citrate.
Calcium carbonate provides the most calcium, but requires extra stomach acid to help dissolve it, so it’s best taken with a meal. Calcium citrate is most easily absorbed by the body. Because this type doesn’t require stomach acid for absorption, it can be taken between meals. (It’s a good choice for those taking heartburn medication that reduces stomach acid.)
Look for a supplement with “USP” (for U.S. Pharmacopeia) on the label. This indicates that the supplement contains adequate calcium, will dissolve well, and is free of lead and other toxic metals. Don’t take calcium supplements containing bone meal, dolomite, oyster shell, or coral – these may contain a small amount of lead, which can be harmful to your growing baby.
And don’t overdo it. Make sure your total tally from food, supplements, and water doesn’t exceed 2,500 mg (or 3,000 mg if you’re younger than 18). Too much calcium can cause constipation, increase your risk of kidney stones, and might hinder your body’s absorption of iron and zinc from foods.