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Calcium Connection

During pregnancy and lactation experts recommend increasing your dairy intake from 2-3 servings to 3-4 servings a day. This recommendation reflects the important role of calcium during your baby's development and growth. Calcium is a mineral used in the body for a multitude of functions. It is used during pregnancy and lactation for fetal and infant bone and teeth development, breastmilk production, and for protection of maternal calcium stores. It is also necessary for proper blood clotting and regulation of blood pressure, heartbeat, water balance in cells, and muscle contractions.

Since human beings cannot synthesize calcium, it must be obtained from the diet. Calcium food sources include milk and milk products, canned salmon and sardines (with bones), dark green leafy vegetables, calcium-precipitated tofu, legumes (dried beans) and cheese. Adequate Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and regulation. During pregnancy, increased estrogen production also aids in calcium absorption helping to prevent deficiency.

Without adequate calcium during pregnancy and lactation, maternal stores of calcium can suffer increasing the risk of bone diseases, including softening and/or thinning of the bones. There is conflicting evidence that poor calcium status can contribute to hypertension during pregnancy. More studies on this interaction are needed.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is set at 1,200 milligrams (mg) during pregnancy and lactation. Careful attention to dietary sources of calcium usually achieve adequate intakes of this mineral. However, deficiency can be a risk if you are a strict vegetarian requiring more prudent dietary choices. Prenatal vitamins contain very little calcium and are not a good source of this mineral during pregnancy. If taking calcium as a supplement, do not take it at the same time as your prenatal vitamin-mineral supplement since iron and calcium are best absorbed when taken separately.

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