Why you need it
Whether you’re pregnant or not, calcium is a hugely important mineral the body, used not only for healthy bones and teeth, but also needed for the healthy function of the circulatory, muscular and nervous systems, in fact it’s used by nearly every cell in the body. If levels of calcium aren’t high enough in your blood, then your body will sap calcium from your bones to restore the blood level to normal, over time weakening your bones and increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
During pregnancy you have an extra demand for calcium, your developing baby who needs the calcium for all the same functions, and is starting from scratch. Your body will put your baby’s development first so the baby will get the calcium she needs, regardless of your intake, but if your intake isn’t high enough that means that the baby takes the calcium from your own stores in your bones and teeth, storing up problems for you later.
The recommended daily intake of calcium for pregnant women is 1000mg, which research has shown is about as much as your body can absorb in one day.
Where to get it As with other vitamins, the best way to get your calcium during pregnancy is through a healthy, balanced diet. Most people are aware that milk and dairy products are rich in calcium, so milk, yoghurt and hard cheeses are all good options (though you’ll want to monitor the fat levels – low-fat milk, cheeses and yoghurts usually contain just as much calcium as the full-fat versions). If you’re lactose intolerant and you usually substitute milk with soy milk, then make sure that your brand of soy milk is fortified with calcium (several are). You might also want to consider milk that has been treated with a special enzyme complex.
Calcium is also found naturally in: green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach and kale (which will also help you with your iron intake), some fish, like salmon and sardines, fruit, like figs and rhubarb and many nuts, like almonds.
You can check calcium content on the nutrition information of packaging, but to give you a rough idea, one cup of milk or a 200g tub of yoghurt provides around 300mg of calcium. The calcium in non-dairy sources is less concentrated, and partly depends upon the freshness of whatever it is you’re eating.
If for any reason you’re worried that you’re not getting enough calcium, for instance if you don’t eat dairy products, then you can take a calcium supplement. Specific antenatal vitamin tablets will include calcium, but may contain only a third of the recommended daily amount, so make sure you check.
Another reason to avoid caffeine, or reduce consumption, is that there’s evidence that caffeine increases the amount of calcium that is excreted, rather than absorbed, by the body.