Calcium

Calcium is one of the human body’s most important minerals and is especially important during your pregnancy.

Calcium is required for a number of different roles in our body which include allowing our muscles to contract and relax, helping blood vessels pump blood efficiently around our body, and helping our body produce and secrete certain hormones.

During pregnancy however your own calcium stores are required to help your baby’s bones develop and strengthen, especially in last trimester of pregnancy. Calcium is transported across the placenta from mother to fetus from week 12. This helps form the baby’s skeleton.

This is why it is extremely important that you are getting enough calcium in your diet.

What will happen if I am calcium deficient?

Being calcium deficient means that your blood is carrying very little calcium around the body for its use by other structures. If the levels are too low, then your body will start to use the calcium stored in your bones which can have serious implications.

Calcium deficiency may affect your pregnancy by:

  • Lower birth weight infants – this can have serious implications on their health, and may be required to stay in hospital for a much longer period.
  • Poor bone development of the fetus
  • Increased risk of developing pre-eclampsia
  • Increased risk of developing osteoporosis in your later life, a chronic condition characterized by low bone mineral density and brittle bones, increasing the fracture risk.

Can calcium deficiency cause pre-eclampsia?

Very low calcium levels can put you at higher risk of developing the blood pressure disease during pregnancy called pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia occurs in approximately 3-5 per 100 Australian pregnancies and can have serious implications, both on your body organs as well as your baby such as growth restriction, premature delivery and stillbirth.

Calcium supplements will not prevent pre-eclampsia in healthy women with a normal blood pressure.

However calcium will reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia in high risk women. This includes women who have had it before, have blood pressure disorder prior to falling pregnant, or a low calcium diet. A large trial showed that calcium supplements in high risk women halved their risk of gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia.

How much calcium should I be aiming for during my pregnancy?

  • Recommended Daily intake (RDI) = 1000mg calcium/day.
  • This is the same as a non-pregnant female however it is much more important that you are meeting these requirements during pregnancy.
  • To achieve adequate calcium intake you must be consuming approximately 2 servings of dairy products per day.
  • Calcium supplements are only recommended in women not achieving these recommendations

How can I ensure adequate calcium in my diet?

Calcium is found in a variety of foods however dairy products are the richest source of calcium. Your body will also find it far easier to digest and absorb the calcium from dairy products in comparison to other plant food products.

Calcium is poorly absorbed from foods that are high in acids (oxalic and phytic acid) such as spinach, beans, seeds, nuts and grains. The calcium found in soy milk is also harder for the body to absorb in comparison to dairy milk.

The following table lists the calcium content of some common foods:

Serving size Approximate calcium content (mg)
Milk – reduced fat 200mL 300
Mlk – reduced fat, calcium enriched 200mL 400
Milk – calcium enriched soy 200mL 320
Yoghurt 1 cup 400
Cheese 2 slices (40g) 280
Almonds 10 30
Pink salmon or sardines, bones included Small tin 200
Pink salmon, no bones Small tin 70
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 60
Spinach, cooked ½ cup 60
Tofu ½ cup 200
Orange juice – fortified 250mL 300
Bread, multigrain 2 slices 60-90

 

Achieving adequate calcium intake is not a difficult task; one can easily meet the requirements through balanced and healthy diet.

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