How can I increase my calcium intake during pregnancy?

Like most kids, you were likely taught to drink your milk. Stronger bones, better teeth -- your parents probably gave you plenty of reasons to drink up. But now that you're a parent yourself, it may have been a while since you drank the white stuff beyond maybe dumping some in your coffee. Here's what you need to know.

Try these creative tips from the American Dietetic Association:

  1. Cook rice, noodles, hot cereals, and other grains in nonfat milk.
  2. Add nonfat dry milk powder to recipes for creamy soups, stews, casseroles, and sauces.
  3. Substitute nonfat yogurt for sour cream or butter.
  4. Sprinkle low-fat grated cheese on salads, soups, or veggies.
  5. Drink at least one glass of milk with every snack or meal. Get in the habit of ordering low-fat milk instead of soda when you eat out.
  6. Instead of your regular cup of joe in the morning, try a latte, which is made with more milk.
  7. Nosh on string cheese or fill a bag with low-fat cheese cubes for a snack on the go.
  8. Searching for something sweet? Try a glass of chocolate milk instead of candy.

A pregnant woman's need for calcium goes up in the third trimester, when the baby's skeleton is rapidly developing. "The fetal skeleton gets what it needs, no matter what, even if it has to leech essentials from its mother's bones," says Murray Favus, MD, director of the bone program and professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. But nature is on Mom's side too: "A woman's body can sense the increased needs of the fetus and produce more vitamin D. This enables pregnant women and nursing moms to absorb more of the calcium that's in their food," says Ruth Frechman, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, in Los Angeles.

It helps your baby grow and fortifies your breast milk. But calcium also benefits Mom's health:

  • Fewer PMS symptoms. A study at the National Institute of Mental Health found that women who took 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily reduced overall PMS symptoms by more than 50 percent.
  • Less body fat. A study from the University of Tennessee showed that a diet high in low-fat dairy food may spur fat cells to produce less fat.

Good News! Experts say pregnancy can be a great time for bone health. First, you are able to absorb more calcium. Second, your body is creating bone-strengthening estrogen. Finally, a Mom's overall skeleton gets strength training thanks to the weight of her baby.

Though the general guideline is 1,000 milligrams a day (the equivalent of three 8-ounce glasses of milk), women who are pregnant or nursing require more -- 1,200 to 1,400 milligrams a day.

If you're concerned about your calcium intake, ask your doctor about supplements. Just don't go overboard. "Too much calcium may interfere with your body's ability to absorb other minerals, cause constipation, or increase your risk of kidney stones," Dr. Favus says.

On the positive side, it's been shown that moms-to-be who took calcium supplements in the second and third trimester gave birth to babies who had a 15 percent increase in bone mineral content over children whose mothers took a placebo. In another study, pregnant women who got about 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily had a lower risk of preeclampsia (a leading cause of premature birth).

Originally published in the October 2006 issue of American Baby magazine.

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Calcium is an important nutrient during pregnancy, and if you’re not getting enough from your diet, you may need a supplement. In this blog, we’ll discuss calcium supplements during pregnancy: how to know whether or not you need one, which type to take and what dose. 

Calcium during pregnancy

Calcium is an essential nutrient during pregnancy. Your baby needs calcium to grow strong bones and teeth, to grow a healthy heart, nerves and muscles, and to develop a normal heart rhythm and blood clotting abilities. 

Although your calcium requirements don’t increase during pregnancy, they stay at your normal levels depending upon your age… so 1300 milligrams per day for women under the age of 18, and 1000 milligrams per day for the rest of us, many women that I see don’t get enough calcium in their diet.

In addition to meeting the needs of your developing baby, calcium is important to prevent a condition called pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy condition characterised by high blood pressure. It can be very dangerous for you or your baby. Women with low calcium intakes of less than 600 milligrams per day have an increased risk of developing pre-eclampsia, so it’s another reason why you may need to double check your calcium intake.

There’s one more reason too… research has found a relationship between low calcium levels and increased frequency and intensity of muscle cramps during pregnancy. 

Calcium supplements during pregnancy

Before I recommend the best type of calcium supplements to look for, I want to make it clear to you that you are FAR better off meeting your calcium requirements through food if you can.

Calcium supplements can be contaminated with lead. One report from the U.S. identified that of eight of 23 nationally available calcium carbonate products contained small amounts of lead. Now, we are talking about tiny amounts, but food is a safer option. More practically, the calcium from food is also absorbed more easily than the calcium from supplements. The best sources of dietary calcium are the small, edible bones found in fish such as sardines, dairy products and seeds such as sesame seeds. If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough, I’d recommend that you keep a food diary for a couple of days and add up your calcium intake, or make an appointment to see a prenatal dietitian.

Now, if you do need a calcium supplement, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure that you don’t take more than 500 milligrams of calcium at one time as large doses won’t be absorbed
  • Don’t take calcium supplements at the same time as your pregnancy multivitamin as it can impact the absorption of other nutrients such as iron
  • Calcium citrate is the best type of calcium supplement as it is more easily absorbed, but it is more expensive
  • If you have calcium carbonate supplements, make sure that you take them with food
  • Absorption from calcium-fortified beverages varies and is generally less than calcium absorbed from milk

If you have any further questions, feel free to post in the comments box below.  And, if you haven’t yet downloaded my free pregnancy meal plan, you can do so by going to