When you're pregnant, your developing baby needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth; to grow a healthy heart, nerves, and muscles; and to develop a normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting abilities. If you don't get enough calcium in your diet when you're pregnant, your baby will draw it from your bones, which may impair your own health later on.
Milk and other dairy products are top sources, as are canned fish and calcium-fortified foods such as cereal, juice, soy and rice beverages, and bread. Not all brands are fortified, so check the labels.
- 1 cup plain skim-milk yogurt: 488 mg
- 1 cup nonfat fruit yogurt: 345 mg
- 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese: 337 mg
- 3 ounces sardines (drained solids with bone): 324 mg
- 8 ounces skim milk: 301 mg
- 1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice: 300 mg
- 1 ounce Gruyere cheese: 287 mg
- 1/2 cup firm tofu made with calcium sulfate: 253 mg
- 1 ounce mozzarella cheese: 222 mg
- 1 ounce cheddar cheese: 204 mg
- 3 ounces canned pink salmon, with bones and liquid: 181 mg
- 1/2 cup cooked spinach: 136 mg
- 1/2 cup boiled collards: 133 mg
- 1 cup nonfat cottage cheese: 125 mg
- 1/2 cup boiled turnip greens: 98 mg
- 2 corn tortillas: 92 mg
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds: 88 mg
- 1 ounce (about 23 whole) dry roasted almonds: 75 mg
Should you take a supplement?
If you're taking a prenatal vitamin, it's probably providing at least 150 to 200 mg of calcium. You could try a separate calcium supplement, but keep in mind that your body can only absorb about 500 mg of calcium at a time. So you may need to take your supplemental calcium in smaller doses, several times a day.
And don't overdo it. Too much calcium can cause constipation, increase your risk of kidney stones, and hinder your body's absorption of iron and zinc from foods.
Make sure your total tally from food, supplements, and water doesn't exceed 2,500 mg. (Tap water typically contains between 1 and 135 mg of calcium per liter, bottled mineral water contains an average of 208 mg per liter, and bottled purified water usually contains only trace amounts.)
Supplemental calcium comes in different forms, most commonly calcium citrate and calcium carbonate. Calcium citrate is the type most easily absorbed by the body.
Calcium carbonate provides the most calcium, but requires extra stomach acid to help dissolve it, so it's best taken with a meal. (Because calcium citrate doesn't require stomach acid for absorption, it can be taken between meals and is a good choice for those taking heartburn medication that reduces stomach acid.)Also look for tablets that are lead-free. Some calcium supplements (such as those that contain bone meal, dolomite, or coral) may contain a small amount of lead, which can be harmful to your growing baby.