During pregnancy and breastfeeding, women need additional calcium to support their growing babies and their own bodies. Getting enough calcium is especially important in the last three months of pregnancy.
Sometimes, women lose bone mass while pregnant or breastfeeding. It happens if a mother doesn’t get enough calcium through foods or supplements. Calcium to support the baby will come from the mother’s bones.
Thankfully, any bone mass lost during pregnancy is typically restored within months of giving birth. If a woman breastfeeds, bone mass will be restored several months after weaning.
Pregnancy may also protect a woman’s bone health. During pregnancy, women are able to absorb calcium better. They also enjoy the bone-protecting benefits of extra estrogen that’s produced during pregnancy.
The National Academy of Sciences recommends women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consume 1,000 mg of calcium every day. Pregnant teens – who are still building their own optimal bone mass – need even more: 1,300 mg of calcium daily. If a teenage girl doesn’t develop enough bone mass, she may develop osteoporosis – weak bones prone to fracture – later in life.
Calcium comes in a variety of foods. Check food labels to make sure you’re getting enough calcium daily. Sources of calcium include:
- Low-fat dairy products. Milk, yogurt and cheese are excellent choices.
- Dark green, leafy vegetables. Broccoli, collard greens and bok choy contain calcium.
- Tofu and almonds.
- Canned sardines and salmon.
- Foods fortified with calcium. Orange juice, cereals and breads often contain calcium.
Talk to your orthopaedic specialist if you’re worried about your bone health. Current federal health guidelines recommend screening women for osteoporosis at the age of 65. Women who are between the ages of 50 and 64 should also be screened if they have a parent who has broken a hip.
Osteoporosis affects about 25 percent of women and 5 percent of men who are 65 or older. Many people do not know they have osteoporosis until they break a bone. Screening helps people who have osteoporosis take action to prevent fractures and falls.
Sources: NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center, U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce