As a new mom, your health may be the last thing on your mind. Caring for your infant is a full-time job, and your needs can easily take a back seat to your baby’s needs. However, it is important to make your health a priority. In this blog, we will focus on one aspect of that- your bone health.
Did you know that women can lose 3 to 5% of their bone mass during breastfeeding? While this temporary bone loss often reverses after weaning, when it is combined with the loss of bone mass during pregnancy, it can be concerning for the mom-to-be.
Why lost bone mass?
The calcium and vitamin D that you take in when you are pregnant will be used to help form the bones of your developing baby. When you don’t get enough of these nutrients, your body’s stores will be used. The need for nutrients to support your baby’s growing bones is greatest during the last three months of pregnancy.
What does this mean for pregnant moms?
While this bone loss is generally temporary, women at risk for calcium and vitamin D deficiency when entering pregnancy will want to be sure they are eating foods and taking supplements rich in these bone-boosting nutrients. Engaging in physical activity can also help reduce the risk of bone loss.
Here are Five things to know about bone health and pregnancy/breastfeeding.
1. There are both dairy and non-dairy sources of calcium.
If you don’t drink milk or eat yogurt and cheese, you’ll be glad to know that calcium is also found in dark leafy green vegetables. Spinach and kale are two examples and are excellent in smoothies that can be made with plant-based “milk” or yogurt. Other foods that contain calcium are papaya, dried figs, bok choy, broccoli, sardines, beans, canned shrimp or salmon with bones, and fortified foods (breads, cereals, and orange juice).
2. It may be helpful to talk to your doctor about your vitamin D status.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists(ACOG), vitamin D deficiency is common during pregnancy. Vitamin D is particularly common among women who follow a vegetarian diet, have limited time in the sun (living in cold climates or wearing sun protection), and ethnic minorities, especially women with darker skin. Your body naturally makes vitamin D when exposed to adequate sunlight, vitamin D is also in certain foods such as fatty fish like salmon, and fortified milk, soy milk, and some orange juice. Ask your doctor about getting your vitamin D level tested. If you are low, you may want to take a vitamin D supplement to increase your level to a healthy range as it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. A healthy vitamin D level supports fertility and a healthy pregnancy.
3. During pregnancy, your body helps protect your bone health.
While a healthy diet overall, including calcium and vitamin D, is essential for pregnant women, the body has protective measures in place to help maintain your bone health. Pregnant women absorb calcium from food and supplements more efficiently than women who are not pregnant. Plus, the hormone estrogen (which is increased in pregnancy) protects bone health.
4. Additional pregnancies can help protect you from future bone loss and osteoporosis.
Despite the temporary bone loss in pregnancy, research has shown that having more children doesn’t increase the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. Some studies have shown that multiple pregnancies can have a protective effect on bone health and reduce osteoporosis risk.
5. Being active is important too!
Eating well and being active during pregnancy go hand in hand for you and your baby’s overall health. Your bones become stronger when you move your body. Walking, for example, is a great way to promote bone health and reduce your risk of gestational diabetes. Exercise can also help ease pregnancy discomforts, give you more energy, and promote better sleep. There has also been some limited research that exercising can slightly raise vitamin D levels. Always talk to your healthcare provider before starting new exercise activities, especially when pregnant.
Protecting your bone health helps set the stage for the development of your baby’s healthy bones. Childhood is a period of rapid growth, and more bone (and bone density) is built during childhood and adolescence than at any other time in life. Ninety percent of bone mass is in place by age 18. Children model the behavior of their parents and primary caregivers. Encourage a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, along with plenty of physical activity with your children. Practice these behaviors together and have fun doing it!