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Pregnancy nutrients: Calcium

Calcium Inner strength

SUMMARY

Known for its role in building healthy bones and teeth, calcium has many other vital functions in the body. Learn how your body adapts during pregnancy to make the most of the calcium in your diet and which foods to eat for a healthy supply.

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.

 Not only important for the development of bones and teeth, calcium is needed by every single cell which makes this easily obtainable mineral essential

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.”

700mg

Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) of calcium each day

58.4mg=

pak choy

pak choy

600mg=

glasses of semi-skimmed milk

milk

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:

Next Steps

Add these items to your shopping list to maintain a healthy calcium intake:

  • Natural yogurt
  • Sardines in brine
  • Cheddar
  • Kale
  • Almonds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Dried figs

View references

Hide references

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1. Department of Health. Dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom. Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. Report on Health and Social Subjects 41, 1991.

2. British Nutrition Foundation. Dietary calcium and health [Online]. 2005. Available at: http://nutrition.org.uk/attachments/205_Dietary%20calcium%20and%20health%20summary.pdf (2a:248; 2b: 241, 2c: 243-4; 2d:262; 2e:260). [Accessed June 2014]

3. Hofmeyr GJ et al. Calcium supplementation during pregnancy for preventing hypertensive disorders and related problems. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 8, 2010.

4. Food Standards Agency. McCance and Widdowson's the Composition of Foods: Summary Edition. 6th Ed. Cambridge. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2002.

5. British Nutrition Foundation. Milk and Dairy foods [Online]. 2014. Available at: www.nutrition.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=721:dairy&catid=63:health yeating&Itemid=214234 [Accessed August 2014]

Last reviewed: 18th August 2014
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