Increasing Calcium in Your Diet During Pregnancy

Your Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

Why do I need calcium?

Calcium is a nutrient needed in the body to build strong teeth and bones.  Calcium also allows blood to clot normally, muscles and nerves function properly, and the heart to beat normally.  Most of the calcium in your body is found inside your bones.

What if I don’t consume enough calcium?

Your growing baby needs a considerable amount of calcium to develop.  If you do not consume enough calcium to sustain the needs of your developing baby, your body will take calcium from your bones, decreasing your bone mass and putting you at risk for osteoporosis.  Osteoporosis initiates dramatic thinning of the bone, resulting in weak, brittle bones that can easily be broken.

Pregnancy is a critical time for women to consume more calcium.  Even if no problems develop during pregnancy, an inadequate supply of calcium at this time can diminish bone strength and increase your risk for osteoporosis later In your life.

How much calcium should I consume during pregnancy?

The following guidelines will help ensure that you are consuming enough calcium throughout your pregnancy.

  • The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) for calcium is 1200 milligrams (mg) per day for pregnant and lactating (breastfeeding) women over age 24.  The USRDA for women under age 24 is 1200 to 1500 mg of calcium per day.
  • Eating and drinking at least four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods a day will help ensure that you are getting 1200 mg of calcium in your daily diet.
  • The best sources of calcium are dairy products including milk, cheese, yogurt, cream soups and pudding.  Calcium is also found in foods including green vegetables (broccoli, spinach and greens), seafood, dried peas and beans.
  • Vitamin D will help your body use calcium.  Adequate amounts of Vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to the sun and in eggs, fish and fortified milk.

How can I get enough calcium if I’m lactose intolerant?

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose the sugar found in milk.  It causes cramping, gas or diarrhea.  Anytime dairy products are consumed, lactose intolerance occurs due to the body’s lack of lactase, an enzyme needed to digest lactose.

If you are lactose intolerant, you can still receive the calcium you need.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Try consuming small amounts of milk with meals.  Milk might be better tolerated with food.
  • You might be able to tolerate certain milk products that contain less sugar, including cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese.
  • Eat non-dairy calcium sources including greens, broccoli, sardines and tofu.
  • Use Lactaid Milk fortified with calcium.  Talk to your dietitian about other lactose-reduced products.

Should I take a calcium supplement?

If you have trouble consuming enough calcium-rich foods in your daily meal plan, talk to your doctor and dietitian about a calcium supplement.  The amount of calcium you will need from a supplement depends on how much calcium you are consuming through food sources.

Calcium supplements and some antacids containing calcium might complement an already healthy diet.  Many multiple vitamin supplements contain little or no calcium.  Therefore, you will need an additional calcium supplement.