Calcium in pregnancy: How much you need and why it's important

We're here to help you bone up on all things calcium in pregnancy.
Written by
Kaitlyn Wilson
Reviewed by
Last updated on
June 3, 2024
min read
Calcium In Pregnancy: Importance & How Much You Need | Kin Fertility
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Your calcium intake is extremely important, especially for pregnant people. They say you should never cry over spilt milk, but the waste of calcium (and the pregnancy hormones) might be enough to shed some tears over.

Pregnancy brain is real, and keeping track of all things you should and shouldn't be doing is extremely hard. And, it can be difficult to know if you're getting adequate calcium intake during pregnancy.

This is why we've compiled this handy guide.

From exactly how much calcium a pregnant person needs to the best ways to consume it and whether dietary supplements are necessary, we're here to help you bone up on all things calcium in pregnancy.

What is calcium?

Calcium is a mineral that is the major building block for healthy bones and teeth [1].

While 99 per cent of the body's calcium is stored in the bones, this essential nutrient is also used for muscle contractions and nerve functions, improving blood clotting abilities and regulating heart rhythms. Interestingly, these systems share the remaining one per cent of the body's calcium stores.

Calcium is mostly absorbed from food sources, however, low calcium intake can cause a number of health issues.

In general, a prolonged calcium deficiency can cause dental issues, cataracts, changes in the brain and osteoporosis, (brittle bones or bone loss) [2]. While calcium is important in every stage of life, the amount your body needs changes depending on each stage.

For example, kids tend to need more calcium than adults. However, getting enough calcium is especially important for pregnant people.

Why do you need calcium during pregnancy?

There are a few reasons why pregnant people need adequate calcium. Not only is calcium essential for helping your developing baby form strong bones and teeth, but it also plays an important part in muscle, heart and nerve development [3].

Calcium doesn't just have benefits for the baby — it also reduces the mum's risk of developing conditions such as hypertension and preeclampsia [4]. And, if mum doesn't get enough calcium, her body will take what the baby needs and in some cases, inadequate maternal calcium intake can cause osteoporosis.

While many mothers can recover from this after giving birth or during breastfeeding, it can still be dangerous. In fact, not getting enough calcium in pregnancy could leave one more vulnerable to developing osteoporosis later in life too.

This is why it's so important for mums-to-be to eat calcium-rich foods or consider taking calcium supplements throughout their pregnancy.

How much calcium do pregnant people need?

While you might prefer a skim milk latte, pregnant women should not be skimming on their calcium intake. So, how much calcium does a pregnant person need? Well, the amount of calcium you need during pregnancy depends on your age and what trimester you are in [5].

Generally speaking, an adult pregnant person requires 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day, which works out to roughly three to four servings of calcium-rich food per day.

It is also important to take into consideration what stage of pregnancy you're in when thinking about your calcium intake.

With so much to think about, we know pregnancy can be a little overwhelming — but it doesn’t have to be. Kin's Pregnancy Checklist consists of bite-sized checklist items personalised to your pregnancy journey. Approved by fertility specialists and OBYGN approved, you'll feel prepared to tackle each day as it comes and enjoy the process, rather than get lost in it.

What trimester is calcium most important?

While getting enough calcium in pregnancy is important at every stage, there are trimesters when it is absolutely more crucial.

The third trimester is when your baby's bone development is at its peak and during this time, 250 to 350 milligrams of your body's calcium is transferred to your developing baby.

Being aware of your calcium intake and whether maternal calcium supplementation is needed is particularly important during the third trimester.

Best calcium-rich foods for pregnancy

As you might suspect, dairy products are generally the best sources of calcium, with milk containing a third of your recommended daily intake alone. If you're vegan or prefer to avoid cow milk, fret not; plant milk fortified with calcium is also a great source.

Some of the best sources of calcium for pregnant people are [5]:

  • Plain yoghurt
  • Most types of cheese, including mozzarella, cheddar cheese, ricotta, feta, cottage cheese and parmesan
  • Milk, including skim and soy milk.

Sources of calcium that aren't dairy products include:

  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Oranges
  • Bok Choy
  • Green soybeans
  • Cress
  • Rhubarb
  • Dried figs
  • Fish including sardines, prawns and salmon
  • Beans including white, chickpeas and red beans

Other calcium-fortified food sources are:

  • Milk alternatives such as soy milk, rice milk and almond milk
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice (orange juice helps improve calcium absorption as well!)
  • Fortified oatmeal and cereals.

Do pregnant people need calcium supplements?

Managing the amount of calcium you're getting from food sources can be tricky, which is why a calcium supplement can be helpful. And, calcium supplementation during pregnancy can be especially important if you're vegan or lactose intolerant.

Your ability to absorb calcium also declines with age, which can be another reason to try calcium supplementation.

To increase absorption, you might also want to consider a supplement like Kin's Prenatal Vitamins, which contain vitamin D, and helps your body better absorb both calcium and magnesium.

Types of calcium supplements

There are two types of calcium supplements — calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Both supplements have similar benefits; so it's just a matter of finding which one works best for your needs [6].

Calcium citrate

This is a more gentle supplement that can be taken with food or on an empty stomach.

Most people find calcium citrate easier to absorb, although it only contains 21 percent calcium, so you may need to take more tablets per day to meet your intake requirements.

Calcium carbonate

This formula is less expensive and works best taken with food. They contain the highest amount of elemental calcium, with about 40 per cent. While it is generally tolerated well by most, it can cause mild constipation and stomaches.

There are a few side effects associated with most prenatal vitamins and calcium supplements.

Side effects of calcium supplements

Calcium supplements can cause a few side effects, including bloating, gas and constipation [7]. Too much calcium, on the other hand, can cause kidney stones and make it more difficult for your body to absorb zinc and iron.

To avoid taking too much calcium, speak to your doctor before your begin calcium supplementation during pregnancy as you may be consuming enough dietary calcium and not need to dabble with supplements.

A solid dietary calcium intake combined with a high-quality prenatal vitamin is one of the easiest ways to ensure both mum and bub get all the calcium and nutrients they need, sans the side effects.

When should you start calcium and iron tablets during pregnancy?

If you are going to try calcium supplements, it's best to start taking these around the third trimester of pregnancy. And, when used in conjunction with a pregnancy vitamin, like Kin's Prenatal, you can ensure your body is absorbing it effectively thanks to the added vitamin D.

You can continue to take it for the duration of your pregnancy; however, be mindful of consuming too much calcium and be sure to check with your doctor before commencing taking calcium supplements.

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