Calcium: A mineral of many powers
Widely recognised for its importance in the normal development of bones and teeth, calcium is an essential nutrient for your baby throughout pregnancy1.
But calcium is more than just a bones and teeth builder. As well as forming and strengthening the hard structures of your baby’s body, this easily obtainable mineral is needed by every single cell. It is present in tissues and body fluids, and has various functions, including helping muscles and nerves to function, aiding digestion and enabling blood to clot2.
According to one study, an adequate intake of calcium in pregnancy may also help to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia and preterm birth3.
“The human body cannot make calcium so it’s important to get an adequate intake in your diet.”
Building healthy bones for life
By the time they are an adult, calcium will make up around 2% of your growing baby’s body weight, the majority of which is found in the skeleton2. It’s during pregnancy, however, that their bones take on more calcium than at any other stage of their life – the third trimester in particular2.
Because the body cannot make calcium, the only source is through your diet. An adequate intake stops the body withdrawing calcium from your own stores, which could affect your own bone health. So as well as helping your baby grow and develop normally, a healthy calcium intake in pregnancy is important for your own bone health2.
How much calcium is enough during pregnancy?2
Despite the fact that your baby requires plenty of calcium, the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI – the amount considered to be enough to meet most people’s needs) during pregnancy is the same as it would usually be – 700mg per day1. What can be different is that your body may absorb more of the calcium you eat, making more available to meet the increased demands2.
“The RNI for calcium during pregnancy is 700mg per day, which should be achievable from a well-balanced diet.”
Because of our moderate dairy intake, most people in the UK get enough calcium without making a special effort. If you are vegan, or unable to eat dairy foods for another reason, you may need to increase your intake with a calcium supplement during your pregnancy. Your midwife or other healthcare professional will be able to advise you on how much you need.
An extra helping for beyond birth
Once your baby is born, breast milk takes on the job of providing all the calcium your baby needs. With their bones continuing to strengthen and lengthen, this is when your dietary requirement increases2.
The RNI for calcium while breastfeeding increases to 1250mg per day1.
Again, this should be achievable by including plenty of calcium sources, such as dairy foods, in your diet.
Good sources of calcium
The bioavailability of calcium (the amount you are able to absorb) varies from food to food and depends on other nutrients present2.
Dairy foods are a rich source of calcium with good bioavailability. Others include cereals, green, leafy vegetables, fish and some fruit.
Dairy sources of calcium and their content4:
Other sources of calcium and their content:
Add these items to your shopping list to maintain a healthy calcium intake:
- Natural yogurt
- Sardines in brine
- Sesame seeds
- Dried figs