Calcium is one of many vital nutrients for breastfeeding mothers.
Calcium helps to build and maintain strong bones. Calcium also helps blood vessels move blood throughout the body and helps release hormones that affect many vital bodily functions.
Read on to learn about the importance of calcium while breastfeeding.
How much calcium while breastfeeding do mothers need?
The recommended intake of calcium for a breastfeeding mother is at least 1,000 mg per day.
This is the same as the recommendation for women aged 19-50 years who are not breastfeeding. After age 50, a women’s recommended intake for calcium increases to 1300 mg per day.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey, 73% of Australian woman consume less than the recommended amount of calcium every day.
If you don’t get sufficient calcium each day, your body will start to use calcium from your bones. This can result in conditions that cause bone loss, such as osteoporosis.
Do I need calcium supplements if I drink milk?
Calcium is absorbed more effectively from food than it is from calcium supplements.
Milk and dairy products are good sources of calcium. One 200 ml cup of milk or 200 g tub of yoghurt contains around 300 mg of calcium. By consuming three servings of low fat dairy products each day, you will be close to meeting your daily calcium requirements.
As well as dairy products, there are also non-dairy foods that have high calcium content.
Calcium rich foods
Examples of foods rich in calcium you should include as part of a nutritious diet are:
- Dairy foods
- Calcium fortified juice
- Dark leafy green vegetables
- Sesame seeds
- Nut butters (almond in particular).
The importance of vitamin D and calcium
To absorb calcium effectively, the body also needs a diet rich in vitamin D. Without enough vitamin D, the body can’t produce calcitriol, which aids calcium absorption from foods.
Foods sources of vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish
- Cod liver oil
- Vegetable oils
- Egg yolks
- Lean meats (red meats in particular)
- Fortified orange juice.
For more information about breastfeeding and vitamin D, you can read BellyBelly’s article Vitamin D While Breastfeeding | Why It Is So Important.
Do breastfed babies need calcium supplements?
A growing baby needs lots of calcium to ensure normal development of bones and bodily functions.
Breast milk contains all the calcium breastfed babies need to meet their daily requirements for the first 6 months of life.
There is slightly more calcium in infant formula than would naturally occur in breast milk but the calcium in formula is not so readily absorbed as the calcium in breast milk.
What are the symptoms of calcium deficiency in breastfeeding mothers?
General symptoms of calcium deficiency (or hypocalcemia) can include exhaustion, poor sleep quality or insomnia, and brain fog. These symptoms might be hard to detect for a mother of a newborn baby, who might be exhausted from the feat of pregnancy and birth, as well as from the demands of caring for a baby.
Other more obvious symptoms that might be related to calcium deficiency are:
- Muscle cramps (calcium helps muscles to contract and relax)
- Poor oral health (sufficient calcium prevents tooth mineral loss)
- Irregular heart beat (arrythmia is a common sign of calcium deficiency in the body).
If a breastfeeding mother is deficient in calcium, this will not affect the amount of calcium in her breast milk. Her body will use calcium stores from her bones to ensure there is sufficient calcium in her breast milk production.
This is why it is vital for nursing mothers to make sure they are eating enough calcium rich foods as part of a healthy diet.
Seek advice from your healthcare provider if you think you might have calcium deficiency.
How do I know if my baby has calcium deficiency?
There are often no symptoms of hypocalcemia in babies.
When there are symptoms present, they can include:
- Dry hair and dry skin
- Brittle nails
- Muscle cramps
Diagnosis in babies is made with a blood test to check calcium levels. Babies with hypocalcemia must take a calcium supplement, with a vitamin D supplement to assist absorption.
If your baby is displaying any of the symptoms listed above, seek advice from a healthcare professional.
Will taking a calcium supplement increase my breast milk supply?
Having a healthy diet that contains essential vitamins and important nutrients is important for a breastfeeding mother’s own health. Calcium supplements might be recommended for nursing mothers who have been diagnosed with a calcium deficiency by their doctor.
Taking a calcium supplement or a daily multivitamin will not increase your supply.
If you think you have low milk supply, talk to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and ask for support.
You can also read BellyBelly’s article Low Milk Supply – 7 Incorrect Assumptions Mothers Make.