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Pregnancy

      Calcium in pregnancy

      Read time: 3 minutes

      Known for its role in building healthy bones and teeth, calcium performs many other vital functions in the body.

      Learn more about the importance of calcium during pregnancy, how your body adapts to make the most of the calcium in your diet when you’re pregnant and the best foods to eat for a healthy supply.

      Why is calcium so important during pregnancy?

      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’s 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.

      By the time they are an adult, calcium will make up around 2% of your 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

      How much calcium do you need when you’re pregnant?

      Because your body can’t make calcium, the only source is through your diet. An adequate intake stops your 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 health too2.

      Even though your baby requires plenty of calcium, the daily recommended amount for women during pregnancy is the same as it would usually be – 700mg per day1. What can be different is that your body cleverly adapts to help serve your growing baby’s needs, absorbing more of the calcium you eat, and making more available to meet the increased demands2.

      Once your baby is born, breast milk takes on the job of providing all the calcium your baby needs. If you decide to breastfeed your baby, you shouldn’t need to make any special dietary changes but it’s a good idea to eat healthily. You can always talk to your midwife or healthcare professional if you’d like more advice.

      Because of our moderate dairy intake, most people in the UK get enough calcium without making a special effort. If you’re vegan or follow a plant-based diet, or unable to eat dairy foods for another reason, you may need to top up your daily intake with a calcium supplement during your pregnancy. It’s important to talk to your midwife or other healthcare professional before talking any supplements during pregnancy.

      Which foods contain 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. Choose low sugar, unsweetened whenever possible.

      If you’re using dairy alternatives, such as nut milks or soya drinks, it’s best to choose unsweetened versions that are fortified with calcium, and other vitamins.

      Other good sources of calcium during pregnancy include cereals, green, leafy vegetables and fish.

      Believe it or not, skimmed milk provides just as much calcium as whole milk? That’s because calcium is found in the liquid part of milk, so it’s not removed when the fat content is skimmed off.

       

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      Foods high in calcium for pregnancy4

      Food type (100g)
      Nutrient quantity (mg)
      Cheddar cheese 721
      Sardines, canned in brine, drained
      540
      Feta cheese 492
      Figs. dried 250
      Almonds 240
      Plain, fat free yoghurt 199
      Spinach, boiled 160
      Curly kale, boiled 150
      Skimmed milk 123
      Dried pineapple 120

      Try boosting your intake with these calcium-rich meals and snacks:

      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. London: TSO 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 [Accessed March 2020]
      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: Sixth summary edition. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2002.

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      Questions about feeding and nutrition?

      Our midwives, nutritionists and feeding advisors are always on hand to talk about feeding your baby. So if you have a question, just get in touch.