The time during your pregnancy and the first months of your baby's life, when you are breast-feeding, are critical times for both you and your baby to obtain enough calcium. Many of your baby's organs depend on calcium to grow properly and adults need calcium to prevent osteoporosis and other health problems. Luckily, calcium is readily available in a variety of foods and through supplements. Still, however, you should check with your physician before taking a calcium supplement during pregnancy and lactation.
Calcium is a mineral that is found naturally in foods and can also be obtained through a dietary supplement. Calcium plays a role in many bodily functions, most importantly bone development and maintenance. Two forms of calcium exist: calcium citrate and calcium carbonate. Calcium citrate is generally the preferred form, especially when you are pregnant, because it is more easily digested, more readily absorbed into the body and generally causes less constipation. However, calcium carbonate contains a higher percentage of elemental calcium than calcium citrate. Because calcium citrate is the more common form of calcium supplement, it is referred to here simply as "calcium."
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) for calcium is 1,200 milligrams (mg) per day for women over age 24 who are pregnant or breast-feeding. If you are under 24, the USRDA is 1,200 to 1,500 mg. However, your body can only absorb around 500 mg at a time, so ideally you should divide the total recommended amount into two or three doses spread throughout the day. Take calcium citrate with food for the best absorption.
Importance for Baby and Mommy
A developing baby making the miraculous transformation from tiny embryo to energetic infant needs all sorts of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, to thrive. In addition to helping build strong bones and teeth, calcium also aids in the development of the baby's heart, muscles and nerves, and ensures good blood-clotting ability. Your baby takes whatever it needs from you during pregnancy and while breast-feeding, so if your diet lacks sufficient calcium, the baby steals calcium from your body. You need strong bones to be able to lift and chase after that baby, so make sure you get enough calcium.
Although calcium can be found in various foods, including dairy products, sardines and spinach, most women find it difficult to obtain enough calcium from diet alone. Therefore, taking calcium supplements, especially before, during and after pregnancy, is generally a good idea. However, this should be cleared with your physician just like any dietary supplement. You should keep track of how much calcium you consume through your diet to figure out how much supplementation you need.