The Importance of Calcium During Pregnancy

pregnant women sitting outdoors

Everyone knows that calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth. But did you know that low calcium levels during pregnancy are associated with preterm delivery and preeclampsia? Studies have found that calcium supplementation decreases reduction of preeclampsia by 45%! That is huge. Preeclampsia affects about 11% of first-time pregnancies and 5% of all pregnancies. It is one of the leading causes of death relating to pregnancy.

What is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure. If preeclampsia is not treated or addressed, it can result in eclampsia. Eclampsia is a condition that causes convulsions and seizures, dangerous to mother and baby. If preeclampsia is developed during pregnancy, it can cause preterm birth.

The risk of preterm birth can decrease by 24% for women with low calcium intakes (<600mg/d) if taking 1000mg/d.  Seems simple enough, right? Make sure you are getting enough calcium while you are pregnant. You will dramatically decrease your risk of preeclampsia and preterm delivery. It will benefit you and your baby during and beyond pregnancy.

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Calcium Recommendations

So how much calcium do you need during pregnancy? The daily recommended intake (DRI) is set at 1000mg/d-the same as for non-pregnant women. Although calcium needs increase dramatically during pregnancy, so does calcium absorption. This means you don’t actually need any more than a non-pregnant person. Unfortunately, in America, the average intake of calcium for women in their childbearing years is only ~640mg/d. We have a long way to go.

Good food sources of calcium include

  • dairy products including milk, yogurt, and cheese,
  • dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and bok choy,
  • almonds,
  • tofu, and
  • foods that are fortified with calcium including cereals and certain orange juices.

In addition to these foods, I recommend you take a pre pregnancy supplement that contains an adequate amount of calcium. Many supplements only contain <250mg/d of calcium. Most gummy vitamins do not contain any, so make sure to check your supplement. Your body can only absorb up to 500mg of calcium at a time so you may need to take supplemental calcium in smaller doses twice a day.

As with most nutrients, it is important to start with calcium supplementation before you are pregnant. You should also continue after pregnancy and through lactation. This will help you maintain your healthy bones while still providing for your baby.

Hacker AN, Fung EB, King JC. Role of calcium during pregnancy: maternal and fetal needs. Nutrition Reviews. 2012;70(7):397-409. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00491.x.

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