Calcium Needs During Pregnancy

Requirements, Uses, and Diet Tips

Calcium is one of the key minerals you need during pregnancy—your body uses calcium along with other vitamins and minerals, and even more importantly your baby benefits from it, too.

Needs vary by age and too much and too little calcium can cause complications. Keep reading to find out how much calcium you need, why it’s important, and how to make sure you're getting enough.

common calcium sources
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Daily Requirements

Calcium needs vary by age.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding moms age 19 and over consume 1000 mg of calcium each day.

Teen moms require a little more. They need enough to maintain their bones and the stores of calcium in their own bodies while supporting the growth of their baby. Therefore, experts recommend that pregnant teens age 18 and under get at least 1300 mg of calcium each day.

Importance

Calcium is an important nutrient for the body. During pregnancy, you need more calcium for your health and the health and development of the baby growing inside of you. 

For Your Baby

Your developing baby needs calcium to form bones and teeth. They're building an entire skeleton, after all. Calcium is also an important nutrient for your baby's heart, muscles, nerves, and hormones.

For You

During pregnancy, you give your baby all the calcium they need, so when you consume the recommended amount of calcium every day you are taking care of your baby and yourself. If you don't get enough, you could run into some complications.

Regardless of whether or not you take in enough, your body will still give calcium to your baby. So, if you are not replacing what you're giving away, you could end up with weakened bones and a greater risk of osteoporosis later in life.

Complications

Complications are possible as a result of both too little and too much calcium. Luckily, they're easily preventable.

Too Little Calcium

You probably won't experience any major pregnancy complications if you don’t consume the exact recommended amount of calcium each day.

A calcium deficiency is more likely to cause complications if it’s due to a health issue such as a kidney problem, surgery, or the need to take certain medications.

Too little calcium can lead to:

In severe and rare cases, too little calcium could lead to death. While, understandably, many of these complications are a cause for worry, remember that you are likely to get some calcium without even trying, and you should have enough stored in your bones to give to your child. In the case that you do have any of the health issues listed above that are more likely to lead to too little calcium, your doctor will be well aware and working closely with you to prevent any complications.

Too Much Calcium

It is rare to get too much calcium from the foods that you eat. You are most likely to take in an excessive amount of calcium if you use supplements.

It’s important to understand which nutrients and how much of each nutrient is in your prenatal vitamin and any other supplements that you take. You may be getting extra without even knowing it.

It’s always best to talk to your doctor about any vitamins that you are taking or considering, so you get what you need without taking too much. If you are 19 or older, you do not want to take more than 2500 mg of calcium each day, and if you are 18 or younger, you do not want to go over 3000 mg daily.

Too much calcium can cause:

Sources

Your body does not make calcium, so you have to get it from food, fortified products, or supplements. 

Food Sources

Four servings of fortified milk or other fortified dairy products will fulfill your daily calcium requirement by giving you about 1200 mg (approximately 300 mg per serving). A glass of fortified orange juice has the same amount at about 300 mg per serving. Other foods such as greens, nuts, and beans have a little less (about 100 mg per serving). 

Make sure the dairy products you eat are pasteurized and talk to your doctor about the type of milk and dairy products that are best. Low-fat and non-fat milk contains all the calcium and nutrients of whole milk without the extra fat and calories. However, your doctor will advise you on the best choice based on whether you are underweight, within the recommended weight range, or overweight.

Dairy products that are a great source of calcium include:  

  • Milk 
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream

Other foods rich in calcium include:

  • Dark leafy greens such as collard greens, kale, broccoli and bok choy (Chinese cabbage) 
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Canned sardines

Calcium-fortified products include:

  • Bread
  • Orange juice and other fruit juice  
  • Cereal
  • Oatmeal

Supplements with calcium include:

  • Prenatal vitamins
  • Calcium citrate
  • Calcium carbonate

Diet Tips

If you enjoy dairy and can easily consume four servings a day (8 ounces per serving), then you’ll have no problem reaching your daily goals. But, if you aren’t a big fan of straight dairy, there are many preparation methods that you may enjoy more than just drinking a cup of milk or eating a cup of yogurt.

Here are a few easy options to help you get what you need. 

  1. Have cereal in the morning. Enjoying a bowl of cold cereal and milk or even hot cereal or oatmeal made with milk is a great way to start the day. 
  2. Make it a latte. Add a little extra milk into your morning coffee or tea.
  3. Top it with cheese. Add a little bit of cheese to your salads, soups, and other dishes.
  4. Make it creamy. Add some milk or evaporated milk to your recipes and make creamy soups, sauces, casseroles, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and other delicious dishes. 
  5. Substitute some dairy in your cooking. Use milk instead of water to cook noodles, pasta, rice, oatmeal, or other foods. 
  6. Change your regular order. Have a glass of milk or chocolate milk with lunch or dinner instead of a soda or another beverage. In colder weather, enjoy a hot chocolate made with milk instead of water. 
  7. Add it as a snack. Fill the fridge with cut-up cheese cubes, string cheese, or flavored yogurt so they’re ready and easy to grab when you need a little bite to eat.  
  8. Have a treat. Enjoy a bowl of ice cream or frozen yogurt, an ice cream shake, yogurt and fruit smoothie, or some pudding for dessert.  

    Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

    Vegetarian and vegan diets are often very healthy. However, you need to understand a little about nutrition to be sure you’re getting all the vitamins that your body needs. Getting the right nutrition is even more important when you’re pregnant.

    There are different types of vegetarian diets. How much calcium you get and how much of it you absorb depends on what you eat. If you follow a lacto-ova vegetarian diet, you can have eggs, milk, and cheese. So, on this plan, you should be able to get enough calcium each day.

    On the other hand, it may be more challenging to meet the daily recommendation if you follow a strict vegan diet. On a vegan diet, you do not consume any milk or dairy products. Plus, some plants interfere with how well your body absorbs calcium. That doesn’t mean you can’t get enough calcium in your diet if you’re a vegan. It just means you have to know the right foods to choose from. 

    Vegan sources of calcium include:

    • Dark leafy greens including kale, collard greens, and bok choy (Chinese cabbage)
    • Broccoli
    • Navy beans
    • Pinto beans
    • Almonds
    • Sesame seeds
    • Tahini
    • Dried fruit

    Fortified products include:

    • Orange juice
    • Tofu with calcium sulfate
    • Almond milk
    • Soy milk
    • Rice milk 
    • Cereal

    If you are having trouble getting the calcium you need through your diet alone, you should talk to your doctor about a vegetarian or vegan calcium supplement.

    Lactose Intolerance and Milk Aversion

    If you don’t tolerate dairy products well, you can still get the calcium you need through other foods, non-dairy alternatives, and fortified products. 

    If you are lactose intolerant you can try:

    • Lactose-free milk, ice-cream, and cheese fortified with calcium
    • Dairy products with reduced lactose
    • Lactase tablets that you take before having dairy

    If you just don’t like the taste of milk you can: 

    • Try cheese, yogurt, or other dairy products
    • Drink fortified OJ
    • Disguise the taste of milk into shakes, puddings, or other cooking and baking recipes

    You can also enjoy vegan-friendly sources of calcium. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your diet, especially if you’re really having trouble getting enough calcium. You may need to take a supplement.

    Supplements

    Prenatal vitamins, along with other vitamin and mineral supplements that your doctor recommends, are a great way to fill in any nutrition gaps.

    Remember that supplements are only meant to add to a healthy diet, not replace it.

    You should still be doing your best to eat right and get the nutrition you need each day.

    When to Consider Supplements

    If you are not getting what you need in your daily diet, you may need to take a supplement, especially if you’re having trouble getting enough calcium because of:

    • Severe nausea and vomiting 
    • Lactose intolerance
    • A diet that doesn’t include dairy products 
    • Health conditions such as IBS or celiac disease

    Supplements are also usually recommended if you are at risk for developing preeclampsia or gestational hypertension.

    Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting anything on your own. While you want to be sure you’re getting enough calcium, you also want to be sure that you aren’t getting too much. Let your doctor know if you are already taking an over-the-counter prenatal vitamin, calcium supplement, or antacid. Your doctor will advise you about the safest supplements or provide you with a prescription for what you need. 

    Types of Calcium Supplements

    Calcium supplements include: 

    • Prenatal vitamins: While they usually contain a little calcium, it’s not enough to cover your daily requirement. You will still have to get calcium through your diet. Different brands have different amounts of vitamins and minerals, so check the label and talk to your doctor. 
    • Calcium citrate: Your doctor may recommend a calcium citrate supplement if you are having trouble getting enough calcium or you are at risk for high blood pressure in pregnancy.
    • Calcium carbonate: Calcium carbonate is the active ingredient in some antacids such as Tums. Let your doctor know if you use Tums to relieve heartburn and follow your doctor’s advice on how to take it. Depending on how many times you take Tums each day and your overall diet, you could be getting too much calcium. 

    Potential Side Effects

    Outside of the potential complications caused by too much calcium, in general, taking calcium supplements may cause you to experience gas, bloating, and constipation. If you do have these side effects, it may be worth trying a different brand, tweaking your diet to reduce gas-causing foods, or finding methods that can ease these side effects.

    Why You Also Need Vitamin D 

    Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for many reasons. One of the things that it does is help your body absorb calcium. Vitamin D and calcium work hand-in-hand to promote strong bones.

    During pregnancy, experts recommend that you get 600 IU of vitamin D each day.

    Your body uses sunlight to make vitamin D naturally. But, you can also get vitamin D from some foods or a supplement.

    To get the vitamin D you need each day, you can:

    • Spend a little time in the sun. Sunlight converts a chemical in your skin to vitamin D.
    • Eat fatty fish. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, swordfish, sardines, and tuna can give you some vitamin D.
    • Consume fortified products. Certain foods are fortified with vitamin D such as milk, orange juice, cereal, yogurt, and eggs. 
    • Take your prenatal vitamin. Most prenatal vitamins contain vitamin D. But, be sure to read the label and check with your doctor.
    • Ask about a vitamin supplement. You should talk to your doctor before taking any additional supplements. It’s important to get enough vitamin D, but too much could be dangerous. 

    How Caffeine Affects Calcium

    Caffeine can act as a diuretic and make you have to pee more. An increase in urination can cause some calcium to leave your body through the urine. This loss should be very small, especially if you stay within the recommended guidelines for caffeine during pregnancy.

    However, if you drink a lot of coffee, tea, and soda, then it can affect the amount of calcium in your body. Not only does it cause you to lose calcium through the urine, but these drinks can take the place of other calcium-rich beverages such as milk or fortified orange juice that you could be drinking instead. Do your best to be mindful of the types of liquids you're consuming.

    A Word From Verywell

    The best way to be sure that you’re getting all the calcium and other nutrients that you need is to eat well. A balanced diet will keep you healthy during your pregnancy, provide your baby with what she needs to grow and develop, give you strength and energy for childbirth, and encourage successful milk production once your child is born.

    Dairy products may be the best source of calcium, but they aren’t your only choice. If you’re lactose intolerant, don’t eat animal products, or you just don’t like milk, you can still get enough calcium without dairy. When you see a doctor at your prenatal appointments, talk about your diet and your concerns. Your doctor can advise you on the best way to meet your daily needs.

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