Pregnancy is an exciting and transformative time in a woman’s life, during which her body goes through numerous changes to support the growth and development of the baby. Adequate nutrition plays a crucial role in ensuring a healthy pregnancy, and one essential nutrient that should not be overlooked is calcium.

The Role of Calcium in Pregnancy

Calcium is a mineral that is vital for the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth. During pregnancy, calcium serves multiple purposes beyond bone health. It aids in the proper functioning of muscles, nerves, and blood clotting, while also supporting the healthy development of the baby’s heart, muscles, and nerves. Additionally, calcium plays a role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure level and preventing conditions like preeclampsia.

Recommended Calcium Intake

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium during pregnancy varies depending on the individual. The general consensus is that pregnant women require more calcium than non-pregnant women. Here in the UK, the recommended calcium intake for pregnant women is 700mg per day.

It’s worth noting that this is just a guideline and everyone have individual needs, so it’s essential to consult with your healthcare provider for personalised recommendations.

Sources of Calcium

Meeting your calcium needs during pregnancy can be achieved through a well-balanced diet. There are several excellent sources of calcium to consider:

Dairy Products: Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products are rich sources of calcium. Opt for low-fat or non-fat options for a healthier choice.

Leafy Green Vegetables: Include vegetables such as kale, spinach, collard greens, and broccoli in your diet to boost calcium intake.

Fortified Foods: Certain foods like orange juice, cereals, and plant-based milk alternatives are often fortified with calcium.

Legumes and Nuts: Incorporate legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas, as well as nuts like almonds and walnuts, into your meals and snacks.

Fish with Edible Bones: Canned fish like salmon and sardines with edible bones provide not only calcium but also omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain development.

Calcium Supplements: In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend calcium supplements to meet your daily requirements but bear in mind not all calcium supplements are equal and opt for ones with no fillers or nasties.  Always consult with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements.

Tips for Maximising Calcium Absorption

To ensure optimal absorption of calcium, consider the following tips:

Vitamin D: Calcium absorption is enhanced in the presence of vitamin D. Exposure to sunlight, fortified dairy products, fatty fish, and vitamin D supplements can help meet your vitamin D needs.

Balanced Diet: Consuming a well-rounded diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods will aid in overall calcium absorption.

Calcium-Rich Foods: Distribute your calcium-rich meals and snacks throughout the day to maximise absorption. Consuming large amounts of calcium in a single sitting can reduce absorption rates.

What if you are Vegan/Plant Based?

As we know calcium is vital for the development of the baby’s bones, teeth, heart, muscles, and nerves. It also supports the mother’s bone health and helps prevent conditions like osteoporosis later in life. Since vegan diets exclude dairy products, which are a rich source of calcium, it’s important for vegan mothers-to-be to pay extra attention to meeting their calcium requirements through plant-based sources.

Recommended Calcium Intake for Vegan Mothers-to-Be

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium during pregnancy for vegan women is the same as for non-vegan women. The general guidelines suggest a calcium intake of 1000 milligrams (mg) per day.  However, individual requirements may vary, so consulting with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian is crucial for personalised recommendations.

Plant-Based Sources of Calcium

Vegan mothers-to-be can obtain sufficient calcium through a well-planned, balanced diet that incorporates various plant-based sources. Here are some excellent calcium-rich foods for vegans

Fortified Plant Milks: Opt for calcium-fortified soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, or oat milk. Check the labels to ensure they contain adequate calcium. Better still; why not make your own? It tastes so much better because it’s fresh and simple and a great source of protein, folic acid, calcium, iron and vitamins.

Tofu and Tempeh: These soy-based products are excellent sources of calcium. Look for calcium-set tofu or tempeh to increase your calcium intake but limit how much you consume as eating too much can lead to hormone imbalance.

Leafy Green Vegetables: Include calcium-rich greens such as kale, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, and bok choy in your meals.

Beans and Legumes: Incorporate calcium-rich legumes like chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and white beans into your diet.

Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, and tahini (sesame seed paste) are all good sources of calcium.

Fortified Breakfast Cereals: Choose whole grain, calcium-fortified cereals to boost your calcium intake or make your own as most of these shop brought cereals are filled with sugar especially Granola.  There are loads of recipes that you could choose from to create a healthy hearty breakfast with organic ingredients that include natural sweeteners such as maple syrup.

Seaweed: Include nori, wakame, or kelp in your meals, as they contain calcium along with other beneficial minerals.

Tips for Optimising Calcium Absorption

To maximise calcium absorption from plant-based sources, consider the following tips:

Vitamin D: Ensure adequate vitamin D intake, as it helps with calcium absorption. Spend time in the sun, and consider a vitamin D supplement if necessary.

Pair Calcium with Vitamin C: Consuming calcium-rich foods with vitamin C sources, like citrus fruits, bell peppers, or berries, can enhance absorption.

Soak and Cook Legumes: Soaking and cooking legumes before consumption helps reduce the presence of anti-nutrients that can hinder calcium absorption.

Diversify Your Diet: Incorporate a wide variety of calcium-rich plant-based foods to ensure you’re getting a range of essential nutrients.

Calcium Supplements: If necessary, your healthcare provider or registered dietitian may recommend a calcium supplement specifically formulated for vegans. Follow their guidance for dosage and timing.

Calcium is a vital nutrient during pregnancy, as it supports both the mother’s health and the development of the baby. Adequate intake of calcium through a balanced diet or supplements, as recommended by your healthcare provider, can help ensure healthy bones, muscles, and nerves for both you and your baby. Vegan/Plant Based mothers-to-be can meet their calcium needs during pregnancy through a well-planned, diverse, and balanced plant-based diet. By including calcium-rich foods such as fortified plant milks, homemade plant milks, tofu, leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds, you can ensure proper calcium intake for the healthy development of your baby and maintain your own bone health.

Remember to consult with your healthcare professional to determine the appropriate calcium intake based on your individual needs, and enjoy a well-nourished, healthy pregnancy journey.

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