The Importance Of Calcium In Your Diet During Pregnancy
- 12 Mins Read
- Written by: Reshma Pathare
- 99% of the body’s calcium is present in our bones and teeth and the remaining 1% is found in the blood, muscles, and tissues.
- It is advised that women aged 19-50 years take around 1000 milligrams of calcium per day.
- During the third trimester, the calcium requirements of the baby rise to 350 milligrams per day.
- 99% of the calcium required by the fetus is received via the placenta from its mother.
- Calcium supplementation can reduce the risk of gestational hypertension by 45%.
- The mother can face long-term bone changes due to calcium deficiency during pregnancy.
- Hypocalcemia can be avoided by choosing calcium supplements.
The moment a woman learns of her pregnancy, her journey as a mother has already begun. Now her actions are not limited to herself, but extend further to her baby growing warmly in her womb. From this day, her diet, exercise, meditation, and self-care are also the baby’s to experience. Calcium-rich foods during pregnancy is one important topic that all would-be mothers need to learn about.
Dietary deficiencies and disorders arising during pregnancy can be a result of such choices. Minerals, trace elements, vitamins, and macronutrients are all essential during pregnancy. A deficiency of any single nutrient can surface as a deficiency or disorder during this time.
A calcium deficiency during pregnancy can lead to various problems. It is important to know the calcium requirements in pregnancy and everything about this subject for young mothers.
Read on to learn the A to Z of calcium-rich foods for pregnancy.
Calcium: what is it exactly?
Calcium is a nutrient that all living organisms need, including humans! 99% of the body’s calcium is present in our bones and teeth and the remaining 1% is found in the blood, muscles, and tissues. IIt is an extremely essential nutrient when it comes to maintaining healthy bones, muscles, brain, cardiovascular, renal, hormonal, and other functions.
Calcium is often associated with healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. It also plays an important role in blood clotting, muscle contractions, and regulating heart rhythms and the nervous system. Calcium is also essential in hormone regulation.
How does our body derive its calcium?
The only way to get calcium is through your diet or supplements. Eating calcium-rich foods in your daily diet can help you and your baby get your required levels of calcium. If your doctor detects a deficiency of calcium in your body, you will probably be prescribed some supplements to make up for the low levels of calcium.
Wondering how your body will get calcium if you don’t consume it? Well, there is a lot of science involved in this! To perform daily functions in the body, the body requires an optimum amount of calcium to keep the activities going.
However, if the supply of calcium to the body is reduced, the Parathyroid hormone or the (PTH) signals to the bones (which carry maximum amounts of calcium in them) to release its calcium into the bloodstream. The PTH also can activate the hormone vitamin D which can improve the absorption of calcium from the gut. At the same time to retrieve more calcium, PTH signals the kidneys to reduce the amount of calcium being excreted in the urine. This can help the body to have more calcium for usage.
On the other hand, when the body has excess calcium in the blood a different hormone named calcitonin works in the exact opposite. When an excessive amount of calcium is detected in the blood, the hormone calcitonin signals the bones to stop the release of calcium into the bloodstream and signals the kidneys to excrete more calcium by flushing it out of the system.
This way the levels of calcium in the body are always maintained. However, it may not always be the case as the calcium if not consumed via food will continue to be extracted from the bones. If this extracted calcium is not replaced there can be a state of deficiency in the body.
Eating more calcium does not mean more calcium will be absorbed into the body. Deficiencies can also arise because of a problem with absorbing nutrients. All these factors play a major role in deficiencies in pregnancy.
How much calcium does a pregnant woman need?
You might think being pregnant or lactating might require eating more calcium. But guess what, that is not the case at all! Women require the same amount of calcium may it be during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or without any of these conditions.
It is advised that women aged 19-50 years take around 1000 milligrams of calcium per day. This basic requirement is not fulfilled for most of the women in this age group. Thus calcium deficiencies are so prevalent in women of all ages. Young adolescents and women aged 18 and younger are advised to get 1300 milligrams of calcium per day as they are of growing age.
These requirements in younger women and pregnant women can be met by including calcium in their diet in the form of dairy products, seafood, beans, lentils, leafy vegetables, and fresh fruits.
Role of calcium in pregnancy
The calcium available in the blood and plasma is only 1% and yet it has numerous functions to perform!
Calcium plays many important roles in the body:
- Calcium helps the bones stay strong and functional.
- Our muscles require calcium to move and function.
- Our nervous system needs calcium to transfer messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
- Calcium plays an important role in blood clotting and maintaining the electrolyte balance of the blood.
- The production and secretion of hormones in our body require some amounts of calcium.
- Calcium is essential for maintaining a regular heartbeat, it is necessary for optimum cardiovascular functioning.
- Calcium keeps our teeth strong.
Calcium plays an important in the early development of the baby. During pregnancy, the need for extra calcium can arise in the mother’s body. Even though the daily prescribed calcium intake for pregnant women is the same as that of any other woman, various studies underline the importance of maternal health and calcium during pregnancy.
Calcium supplementation in pregnancy has the potential to reduce adverse gestational outcomes, like decreasing the risk of hypertensive disorders in the mother, reducing the risk of preterm birth, and thus reducing the overall risk of infant mortality.
Third trimester: a crucial time
During the third trimester the demand for calcium in the pregnant mother’s body increases. This is the peak time for the rapid skeletal development of the fetus. During the third trimester the calcium requirements of the baby rise to 350 milligrams per day.
Calcium transfer from mother to fetus
By the time the gestation period is coming towards an end, the baby has completed around 98% of its skeletal development and contains about 30g of calcium in it! Any guesses about how did a tiny baby manage to pull such a trick? You probably guessed it right, it’s the mother!
Throughout the 12-week gestation period, calcium is continuously transferred from the mother to the baby via the placenta. This demand for calcium peaks at 32 weeks as the baby is growing rapidly. The baby is constantly being supplied with calcium that is derived from the mother’s body. The fetus draws in 250-300 milligrams of calcium per day from the mother. At this rate, 99% of the calcium used by the fetus is received via the placenta from its Mumma!
Here are some ways in which calcium facilitates the growth outcomes of the baby:
- Growth of the little one
Scientists studying the relationship between calcium and fetal development have concluded that calcium plays a crucial role in the baby’s development. There has been a positive relationship between the growth of the baby and maternal calcium intake.
- Bone health of the offspring
During the bone development of the baby, it has been found that pregnant women with a good amount of calcium intake or those taking calcium supplements have a positive effect on the bone development of the baby. The babies born had strong bones meaning good bone mineral density (BMD) and bone length. This shows that calcium is good for the baby’s bone and overall development.
- The early risk of osteoporosis
The environment that a fetus grows in affects its growth and development. When the mother is healthy and has optimum calcium in her nutrition, the babies have shown to develop healthier in terms of bone health further in their life. However, if the mother’s diet lacked calcium and vitamin D, the chances of the baby developing osteoporosis, impaired bone development, and the risk of bone fractures in the future increased.
- Neonatal mortality
Researchers studying calcium and fetal development found that there was a swooping 30% decrease in neonatal mortality with calcium supplementation. The calcium intake of the mother can improve life outcomes for the newborn baby.
Calcium and maternal health
Calcium intake is crucial for the health of the pregnant woman as well as her baby. Other than including calcium and vitamin D supplements, there is no other way to increase the absorption of calcium in the mother’s body. If the required amounts of calcium are not consumed dietarily, then the body is going to derive its calcium from the bones. Other than the risk of dwindling bone health, low calcium intake can pose a risk of many other issues during pregnancy.
Not having enough foods rich in calcium for pregnant mothers can have several consequences:
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH)
Gestational hypertension is hypertension you develop when you are 20 weeks pregnant. PIH affects about 11% of first pregnancies. This usually does not have any other symptoms and eventually goes away. In some cases, it causes complications during pregnancy. Studies have shown that calcium supplementation can reduce the risk of gestational hypertension by 45%.
Preeclampsia is a condition in which hypertension occurs during the latter half of gestation and is associated with an increase in urinary protein, and swelling of the legs, feet, and hands. It can appear earlier in pregnancy, after pregnancy, or during the later stages of pregnancy. The latter is considered to be the most dangerous. Preeclampsia can often lead to eclampsia, it is the development of seizures during this period. High doses of calcium, about 1000 mg/day can reduce the chances of preeclampsia in pregnant women.
- Preterm delivery
Studies have shown that taking 1000 milligrams of calcium supplementation per day can reduce the risk of preterm birth by 24% This is great news for pregnant ladies looking forward to having healthy babies.
- Maternal bone loss
Maternal bone loss is a problem faced by women in low economic countries and counties with lower literacy rates. With optimum calcium intake, maternal bone loss can be prevented as an ample amount of calcium is gained via diet or supplementation. This can reduce the risk of decreased bone mineral density in young mothers.
- Calcium and lactation
It is known that lactating women require optimum levels of calcium in their diet to feed their young ones. Studies have shown that during lactation, a mother loses her bone mass and bone weight as calcium can be drawn from her bones. This highlights the importance of dietary calcium in lactating women.
- PTH secretion
Low calcium intake during pregnancy may stimulate the secretion of PTH. This can increase muscle contractions, and release renin from the kidney, leading to physiological changes like the development of PIH and preeclampsia.
- Long term bone changes
Going through multiple pregnancies can lead to long-term bone changes. Pregnancy, fetal development, and lactation can lead to bone loss in the mother. In the long run, if this calcium is not restored via diet and supplementation, it can lead to long-term bone changes, reduced BMD, and increased risk of fractures.
Hypocalcemia during pregnancy
Hypocalcemia is a condition in which there are lower-than-average levels of calcium in the body.
Hypocalcemia is caused due to:
- Reduced production of calcium
- Reduced absorption of calcium
- Increased excretion of calcium in the urine
- Low levels of circulating calcium in the body
- Deficiency of magnesium or vitamin D.
Signs and symptoms of hypocalcemia
The signs and symptoms of hypocalcemia are as follows:
- Twitching in your hands, face, and feet
- Tingling sensation
- Memory loss or dementia
- Scaly skin
- Brittle nails
- Rough hair
- Abnormal heartbeats or arrhythmias
- Kidney stones or other calcium deposits in the body
Need for calcium supplements during pregnancy
By now it is pretty evident that there is an increased need for calcium during pregnancy to avoid any deficiencies, disorders, or health conditions post-pregnancy. It is also a must for a baby’s optimum development.
The need for supplementation during pregnancy is high, considering many women do not meet their nutritional needs during pregnancy.
A recommended dose of calcium for pregnancy must be fulfilled at all costs. Getting screened for any existing deficiencies and seeking supplements for the same can prevent the risk of further complications during pregnancy.
Calcium-rich foods for the mother-child duo
Optimum amounts of dietary calcium can most times solve problems related to calcium deficiency. Eating calcium-rich foods during pregnancy and meeting the daily calcium requirements can pave the journey to a smooth sailing pregnancy.
Here are some options in plant-based calcium for the body of your unborn baby calcium-rich foods you can include in your daily diet:
- Sardines and other sea-foods
- Beans and lentils
- Edamame and tofu
- Green leafy vegetables
- Almonds and other nuts
- Grains and cereals fortified with calcium
These are some wholesome sources of the good calcium we all need!
Pregnancy is a journey of ups and downs. The outcomes of which can be improved by meeting the daily calcium requirements of the body. The calcium a woman consumes during pregnancy is not just for her but also her growing baby. Keeping in mind how the body acts differently in getting calcium during pregnancy, the daily requirement of calcium during pregnancy should be taken seriously.
Eating calcium-rich foods during pregnancy can reduce an array of problems for the mother and the baby. These problems can be avoided with just a little care and calcium in our diet. Getting screened for calcium, vitamin D, or magnesium deficiency is a must during pregnancy. That can help in choosing the right supplements and preventing any complications.
Eating diet and healthy foods and calcium-rich foods for pregnancy can help in avoiding conditions like hypocalcemia in pregnancy along with other pregnancy complications. So, follow our nutrition blogs, for credible health information, and have a safe and healthy pregnancy!
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- Imdad A, et al. Role of calcium supplementation during pregnancy in reducing the risk of developing gestational hypertensive disorders: a meta-analysis of studies from developing countries. (2011). BMC public health, 11 Suppl 3(Suppl 3), S18.
- Andrea N, et al.Role of calcium during pregnancy: maternal and fetal needs, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 70, Issue 7, 1 July 2012, Pages 397–409,
- Almaghamsi A, et al. Hypocalcemia in Pregnancy: A Clinical Review Update. Oman Med J. 2018;33(6):453-462.