Pregnancy + Calcium: How Calcium Affects Your Baby’s Development

by Peter Bua
Pregnancy + Calcium: How Calcium Affects Your Baby’s Development

Trying to conceive or already pregnant? One of the important things to think about is your calcium intake.

Calcium is essential for the baby’s development (think strong bones and a healthy heart) and it’s also important for mom’s long-term bone health.

During pregnancy and while breastfeeding, the baby will use up mom’s resources to meet their own needs. Sometimes this can cause a deficiency in key nutrients. This is particularly true when it comes to calcium.

Today we are talking about all things calcium, during pregnancy and beyond – including how much you need when you’re pregnant and breastfeeding, the best ways to get it from your diet, and when you might need a supplement.

Why Calcium is Important Before, During and After Pregnancy

Getting enough calcium when you’re pregnant is extremely important for the baby’s cardiovascular, skeletal, and neurological growth. It’s so important during pregnancy, you actually increase calcium absorption from the food you eat by up to 72% to provide for what the baby needs, particularly in the second half of pregnancy, when fetal bone development really speeds up. During the third trimester mothers transfer 250-350 milligrams of calcium to their baby every day!

calcium for pregnant women

Getting enough calcium is important for the mother’s health, too. A calcium deficiency during pregnancy can raise your risk for pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. Preeclampsia is a life-threatening pregnancy complication resulting in high blood pressure and protein in the urine. It can also cause premature birth, low birth weight, and affect infant bone mineral density. 

Long term effects exist as well. Inadequate dietary calcium intake before, during, and after pregnancy can cause depletions in bone mineral density (BMD), possibly putting you at risk for osteoporosis later in life. 

Calcium deficiencies while breastfeeding can lead to low concentrations of calcium in breast milk, which can be harmful to the infant’s growth. Adequate calcium also prevents bone loss for the breastfeeding mother. As a breastfeeding mother, you’ll need extra calcium to replace what is being used for breast milk, especially while you're producing less bone-protective estrogen in the postpartum period. 

A diet rich in bone-supportive nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium will help support proper growth for the baby and help protect mom from bone problems later in life.

All that said, the last thing you want to do is stress about getting exactly the right amount of calcium every day. If you do some research and plan your meals accordingly, you can meet your calcium needs without having to overthink it.  

How Much Calcium During Pregnancy or Breastfeeding?

When it comes to your diet, knowledge is power. And when it comes to calcium needs, I don’t recommend guessing. Keeping a weekly food log can help you understand how much calcium you’re actually taking in on a daily basis. Then, you can adjust your diet accordingly. 

calcium for pregnant women

Many of my clients are shocked to find out they aren’t getting as many nutrients as they think they are. In fact, most women aren’t. National dietary surveys report the median calcium intake for women of reproductive age is between 460-650 mg/day. And this doesn’t take absorption into account. Vitamin D levels play a big role in how much calcium your body absorbs. 

Yikes, right? Especially considering pregnant women’s calcium intake should be even higher at about 1,000 mg/day and breastfeeding moms need up to 1,300 mg of calcium per day . 

If you’re pregnant now (or thinking about getting pregnant) I recommend you get familiar with the foods that are high in calcium and also get your Vitamin D levels checked.  

The Best Non-Dairy Calcium Rich Foods for Pregnant or Nursing Women

While just two servings per day of calcium-rich foods like yogurt, milk and cheese can help you meet your daily needs, not everyone consumes dairy. Luckily there are other foods that can help you meet your needs. Below are a few non-dairy foods that are high in calcium: 

  • Dark green leafy vegetables like collard greens (266 mg per cup), bok choy (160 mg per 1 cup) or turnip greens (148 mg per one cup.)
  • Canned sardines with bones (325 mg per 3 ounces)
  • Calcium fortified beverages like orange juice (349 mg per cup) or calcium fortified soy milk (2299 mg per cup) or almond milk (450 mg)
  • So Delicious coconut yogurt (fortified with 300 mg calcium)
  • Tofu (253 mg per ½ cup)
  • Canned salmon (179 mg per 1 ounce)
  • Chia seeds (179 mg per 1 ounce)
  • White beans (120 mg per cup)
  • Black-eyed peas (106 mg per ½ cup
  • Edamame (98 mg per cup)
  • Almonds (97 mg per 1/4 cup)
  • Tahini (130 mg per 2 tablespoons)
  • Wakame (126 mg per cup)
  • Okra, kale, cabbage, broccoli and brussel sprouts all contain between 3-6 % of the RDI per cooked ½ cup

Throwing some greens into your smoothie (and using fortified milks), snacking on edamame or almonds, and adding beans to your salad are a few easy ways to up your calcium intake.  

calcium rich food

The Role of Calcium Supplements During Pregnancy and Beyond

It’s recommended that women with low calcium intakes should either increase their intake of calcium-rich food sources or supplement about half their calcium needs per day. Women should also get adequate sunlight exposure or take a vitamin D supplement if levels are below 30 ng/mL.

When considering a calcium supplement, remember to check your prenatal vitamin first. You don’t want to overdo it, so check your vitamin’s ingredient levels  before supplementing. Also, get clear on how much calcium you’re really getting from your diet. Track your normal intake and be honest with yourself. If you’re consistently not getting what you need each day, a calcium supplement can help! 

Is a Calcium Supplement Right for You?

By Danielle Omar, RDN

It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before adding supplements, especially during and after pregnancy. Calcium can decrease the absorption of some medications, including thyroid medicines and some antibiotics. 

Choose a Quality Calcium and Vitamin D Supplement

Choose a high quality calcium supplement that combines calcium and Vitamin D. FitFormula Classic Calcium + Vitamin D combines both calcium and Vitamin D in an unflavored powder that’s easy to add to many foods and beverages. I also love that you can toss it in your pocket or purse to take with you throughout your day. 

Calcium is Essential

Calcium is essential for both you and your growing baby! If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, make sure you're consuming 1,000 mg of calcium a day and plenty of Vitamin D. You can do this by eating at least two servings of calcium-rich foods like yogurt and cheese, dark leafy greens or calcium fortified foods. If you’re concerned you’re not getting enough calcium, consider taking a calcium + Vitamin D supplement like FitFormula Classic Calcium + Vitamin D

Looking for a fun way to get more calcium in your diet? Try my recipe for Mint Chocolate Peanut Butter Energy Balls and learn even more ways to get calcium in your diet.