Calcium Supplementation During Pregnancy May Help Decrease Maternal Death and Morbidity and the Risk of Pre-eclampsia and Premature Birth
Supplementation of certain nutrients, minerals, and vitamins is a common step to improving the health of mother and baby during pregnancy. It is well known that supplementation with folate, for example, lowers the risk of a baby developing neural tube defects. Many studies have recently looked at the effects of supplementation to prevent pre-eclampsia and its related adverse effects. Pre-eclampsia is a dangerous condition marked by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. It can lead to serious complications or death in mother and baby. The only cure is to deliver the baby. If the baby is not at term, the baby may need to be delivered prematurely. Prematurity can lead to health and developmental complications for infants.
Researchers from the Cochrane Database examined past studies to determine what, if any, association exists between calcium supplementation and a healthy pregnancy. The study found that calcium supplementation during pregnancy reduced the risk of pre-eclampsia, premature birth, maternal death, and other related serious problems.
About the Study
The study was a systematic review of 13 previous randomized trials. The trials evaluated calcium supplementation (at least one g/day) in a total of 15,370 pregnant women. Investigators found that calcium was associated with:
- Reduced risk of maternal death or other serious problems in an analysis of four studies
- Reduced risk of pre-eclampsia in an analysis of all 13 studies
- Reduced risk of premature births (birth before 37 weeks gestation) in an analysis of 11 studies
The greatest reduction in risk of pre-eclampsia or premature birth occurred with women who were at high risk for these complications.
How Does This Affect You?
The study was a systematic review, which takes a very particular approach to combining smaller, sometimes conflicting, studies to build stronger more reliable results. Not all study results could be combined, as studies differed in the results they collected, the women they recruited, and the supplement they gave. This combination of studies suggests that calcium supplementation is beneficial during pregnancy, especially among women at high risk and for women with low calcium intake. In addition, calcium was not associated with any harm.
Calcium supplementation is generally considered safe, easily accessible, and affordable. You can also improve dietary intake of calcium by including dairy products and leafy green vegetables in your diet. A balanced diet will help you get not only enough calcium, but a wide range of other nutrients and vitamins that will help you stay well and give your baby healthy building blocks. It is very important to talk to your doctor about supplements and dietary recommendations before conceiving and during pregnancy.
Hofmeyr GJ, Lawrie TA, Atallah ÁN, Duley L. Calcium supplementation during pregnancy for preventing hypertensive disorders and related problems. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 8.
Last reviewed December 2010 by Brian P. Randall, MD
Last Updated: 4/9/2012