Why read: Getting enough calcium when pregnant is extremely important. With this guide, you can easily meet your calcium needs from food without relying on supplements.
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Calcium is extremely important when you’re pregnant!
Wait! Let me correct myself.
Calcium is ALWAYS important. But you need to pay double attention to getting enough calcium as soon as you see that positive pregnancy test.
Because your baby needs calcium to develop bones and teeth and keep them strong. Your body can’t make calcium so you need to get enough daily supply from food or supplements to meet the needs of your growing baby.
What happens if you don’t get enough calcium when pregnant?
Your baby gets what it needs, no matter what. This is good news!
The bad news is that if you get an insufficient daily amount of calcium, your baby starts using your own reserves of calcium at the detriment of your bones and teeth.
And of course, you don’t want to deal with bad effects of calcium deficiency after pregnancy, as tooth decays. Or develop osteoporosis later in life.
Plus, studies have shown that calcium supplementation in pregnancy reduces the risk of preeclampsia which is the leading cause of premature birth.
How much calcium when pregnant?
Interestingly, calcium requirements for women do not increase during pregnancy. It’s just most women (and men too for that matter) don’t normally reach their required daily calcium intake. So it’s important to start paying attention to eating enough food rich in calcium when you get pregnant.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all women, including pregnant and breastfeeding moms, aged 19 years and older get 1,000 mg of calcium every day. Girls aged 14-18 need even more – 1,300 mg.
Can you take calcium supplements when pregnant?
Yes, you can. If you feel there’s no way you can get a sufficient amount of calcium from food, it’s good to talk to your obstetrician about taking calcium supplements.
However, I’m all for avoiding supplements and getting the needed nutrients from food whenever possible.
While it’s highly recommended for pregnant women to take prenatal vitamins, you can skip supplements for your calcium supply. Calcium from food is better absorbed than that from synthetic supplements. Plus, calcium supplements can have potential side effects – they may make you feel bloated, constipated, nauseous, gassy.
Your prenatal vitamins most likely already have some supply of calcium. But because calcium inhibits the absorption of iron (another vital mineral in pregnancy), prenatal vitamins normally have a higher amount of iron and lower calcium.
So first, go check how much calcium you’re getting from your prenatal vitamins. Mine is 23% of the daily amount which means I need to get another 77% from other sources.
Important! As I mentioned above calcium and iron do not go well together. So whether you take a calcium supplement or eat calcium-rich food make sure you do that at least 2 hours apart from the time you take your prenatal vitamins.
Is too much calcium bad for pregnancy?
If you’re getting your calcium from food, you shouldn’t be concerned about too much calcium. It’s very unlikely that you eat so much calcium that it gets to a dangerous level.
However, if you go the supplement route, that’s where you need to be sure to not overdo it. Too much calcium can prevent your body from absorbing iron and zinc, cause constipation and kidney stones.
To avoid all of that, firstly, strictly follow your doctor’s recommendation and don’t exceed your daily required amount.
Secondly, be aware that your body can’t absorb the needed amount of daily calcium all at once. This means you can’t take a 1,000 mg supplement once a day and think you’re good. For the most absorption possible spread out your calcium intake to 2-3 times a day.
The same with food. You need 3-4 servings of calcium-rich food at different times of the day.
What helps calcium absorption?
We’ve learned that iron and calcium aren’t compatible.
On the contrary, the two essential minerals that work together with calcium are vitamin D and magnesium.
According to Dr. Dean of the Nutritional Magnesium Association magnesium converts vitamin D into its active form so that it can help calcium absorption.
So check your prenatal vitamins for the vitamin D and magnesium content. And if not enough, concentrate on adding vitamin D and magnesium-rich foods to your diet too.
Also, avoid caffeine and high-salt foods as those interfere with calcium absorption. You should limit your caffeine intake to a max of 200 mg a day, so just one cup of coffee. Soda drinks also count to the caffein amount. The best would be to just cut out caffeine altogether. That’s what I did for my 9 months pregnancy and 1 year of breastfeeding (big sigh!).
Calcium-rich foods – dairy
Now, to the most important part. Believe me, you don’t need another supplement for calcium. You’re already taking enough supplements to have potential side effects like constipation, heartburn, nausea to name a few. It’s not difficult to get your daily required amount of calcium from food.
Let me start with dairy products. Dairy is the best source of calcium because calcium from dairy is easier absorbed.
Cow, goat or sheep milk are all great sources of calcium. One glass of milk provides 30% of your daily needed amount. Low fat and nonfat milk is just as good as whole milk and has the same amount of calcium and nutrients only without the extra fat and calories.
Based on your weight before the pregnancy, talk to your doctor and see which milk suits your needs best. Maybe you do need the fat if you’re underweight and need to gain some extra weight.
If you don’t like drinking milk, you can always sneak it into other drinks or meals. For instance, switch to a latte with extra milk when drinking your morning coffee. Prepare smoothies where milk is the main ingredient. Substitute sour cream with milk in creamy sauces. Add milk to your cereal.
Yogurt and Kefir
These two are my favorite. I eat plain yogurt with berries, nuts or dry fruit every day as my afternoon snack (I give the same to my 4-year-old son too). And I finish my day with a glass of kefir. Sometimes I drink it with an oatmeal cookie – makes it more delicious. Another 30% each of the needed daily calcium intake.
My favorite brand of Kefir is Green Valley because it’s not as sour as other brands I’ve tried and has big number of live bacteria.
Both yogurt and kefir are part of my daily calcium intake with no exceptions because they are also natural probiotics. It’s very important to maintain a healthy gut in pregnancy too. It boosts the immune system and helps with preventing constipation.
Cheese is arguably the easiest and most delicious way to top up your daily calcium level. Always have a big variety of cheese in the fridge and just make a habit to have a couple (or more) slices with every meal. You can also add shredded cheese to basically any meal. Go with extra cheese on pizza, pasta, and other cheese friendly meals.
Cheddar, mozzarella, American, Swiss, feta, Ricotta, parmesan – are just a few to choose from. Depending on the type, cheese adds up to 20% of your daily needed calcium.
I’m not a sweet tooth and don’t normally eat too much ice cream. But when I was pregnant I had bad cravings for everything sweet. And the ice cream was the one thing I could binge eat without feeling I’m adding too many calories. The excuse – calcium.
So you too choose ice cream whenever you crave for something sweet.
Important! Stay away from unpasteurized dairy products, especially soft cheese like brie. Always check the label. If in doubt, don’t eat it.
Calcium-rich foods – non-dairy
Canned Sardines and Pilchards
These oily small fish are an excellent source of calcium thanks to their edible bones. They are also packed with Omega-3 fatty acids which are also essential during pregnancy.
A small 4.4 ounce can of sardines provides 15% of the RDI for calcium.
If you haven’t already, try to make seeds your best friends. It’s unbelievable how these tiny powerhouses (just 2-3 tbsp) provide maximum nutritional value to our diet with minimum calories.
Many seeds are high in calcium, iron, magnesium, Omega-3 fatty acids, and other important minerals.
And because seeds taste rather bland, you can add them to pretty much anything – salads, smoothies, oatmeal, drinks, main dishes. Stock up your pantry with big variety of seeds, make a habit adding them to your meal. Rotate, mix and match, eat as a snack – whatever works for you.
You do need to cook some of the seeds such as amaranth and teff but those make great breakfast as a substitute to oatmeal.
Important! Don’t overdo with the seeds though. 1-2 tbsp is the optimum amount to eat in one seating. Avoid poppy and sesame seeds altogether as some studies found those unsafe during pregnancy.
It’s always good to eat lots of leafy greens and green vegetables, but particularly so when you’re pregnant. Make salads, add them to your soups and smoothies.
One cup of greens can add from 4-10% to your required daily calcium intake. In addition, you’ll get a hell of other essential minerals and vitamins all in one shot.
Rhubarb (10% DV), kale (10%), okra (8% DV), broccoli (7% DV), bok choy (7%), watercress (4% DV).
Almonds make an excellent snack. Keep them handy on your countertop or just add to your lunch box. 1 ounce of almonds will add 7% of the RDI for calcium.
Not very fond of almonds? Try almond butter instead.
Not very fond of almond butter either? I have a cool secret for you: make a batch of almond butter fudge and keep in the freezer. This is the best dessert ever, believe me! So delicious, you’d want to eat it all at once. Great way to satisfy your sweet cravings.
Most of the soy foods are great sources of calcium. If you’re vegetarian these are a great alternative to dairy products. 1 serving (half cup) of tofu contains 45% DV of calcium.
Tempeh (18% DV), miso (15% DV), edameme (9% DV), soymilk (6%)
Non-dairy calcium-fortified foods and drinks
This is the easiest way to meet your daily calcium requirement. On a day you feel low energy to make yourself a bowl of salad, or you know you forgot to eat cheese with your meal – you can simply drink a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice 3 times a day and you’ll be golden.
Here are some other foods and drinks that you should stock up your pantry and fridge with for an easy way to add calcium to your diet. Check the packaging for the exact percentage of calcium content.
- Fortified almond milk, soy milk, rice milk (30-45% DV)
- Fortified orange juice (30-50% DV)
- Fortified cereal (up to 100% DV)
- Fortified flour and cornmeal (5-10% DV)
One Last Thing
It’s extremely important to get enough calcium when pregnant. And it can easily be done by adding a variety of foods in this list to your diet.
Overall, your everyday meal should be made of all food categories – whole grains, lean meat and poultry, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and dairy. Try to have at least 3 servings of different variety of vegetables and fruits every day. Every fruit and vegetable has a certain amount of calcium. Dried fruits make great snacks. Dried figs are particularly high in calcium.
Legumes should also be an integral part of your pregnancy diet. They contain good amounts of iron and some are high in calcium too.