How Do Pregnancy And Lactation Affect Your Bones?

pregnancy and lactation

The body’s demands for nutrients increases during pregnancy and lactation. Women need to pay special attention to their nutrition when they are pregnant or breastfeeding.

These increased nutritional demands can exert strain on their bones. The need for additional calcium can make women prone to faster bone resorption and their risk of bone health disorders can increase. 

Women should understand the impact of pregnancy and lactation on their bones. Here is a discussion about how bone functions change and the best ways to maintain stronger bones. 

What is the impact of pregnancy and lactation on your bones?

1. Bone loss 

During pregnancy, the body requires more calcium than it would otherwise. The increased demand for calcium can be attributed to the growth of the fetus. 

The development of a baby’s bones is dependent on the amount of calcium the mother’s body receives. To meet the demands of the growing bones of the baby, a woman’s body tends to draw calcium from her bones. 

This can speed up the process of bone loss and bone resorption in women. As a result, bones become deprived of calcium resulting in reduced bone mineral density. [1]

These changes in the bones can make women prone to develop osteoporosis. It is advisable to increase your calcium intake during pregnancy, keeping in mind the requirements of your own body as well as that of the growing baby. [2] [3]

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2. The effect of hormones

It is estimated that the bones of an adult woman contain about 99% of the calcium in her body. This content tends to be stable in young and middle-aged women, unless medications, ovarian failure, or a chronic illness affect the bone formation processes. 

However, during pregnancy, these stable levels of calcium in the bones could be subjected to changes. This can occur if the metabolism of calcium and bone formation processes are substantially altered during pregnancy and lactation. 

As a result, bone density may drop considerably. 

These disruptive changes in the bones could be attributed to the hormonal changes occurring in the body. During pregnancy and lactation, the levels of reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone alter to ensure an adequate supply of calcium to the baby through the placenta or breast milk. 

The continuous loss of maternal calcium during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, and lactation, can make the bones weak. These changes can be avoided by increasing your intake of foods containing calcium or taking a calcium supplement. [4] 

It has also been observed that women tend to regain their bone mineral density within a few months after childbirth. Yet, the strength and density of the bones may remain compromised to some extent. [5]

3. Intestinal calcium absorption

Fortunately, a woman’s body naturally allows for an improved supply of calcium to the bones when she’s pregnant. 

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Research studies have revealed that the absorption of calcium in the intestine may improve during pregnancy, usually after the 12th week. 

The increase in calcium absorption may also be associated with an improved metabolism of vitamin D precursors. As a result, the availability of calcium and vitamin D to the bones may improve to some extent. 

These physiological changes occurring during pregnancy could be considered a natural way to help them avoid the consequences of hormonal changes and increased demands of the growing baby. [6]

4. Renal calcium excretion

Some research studies have suggested that poor bone health during pregnancy and breastfeeding could be linked to the increased excretion of calcium through kidneys. 

It has been observed that the kidneys tend to remove calcium from the body possibly to reduce the calcium overload caused due to the increased intestinal metabolism.

As a result, the benefits women could achieve by the increased calcium absorption in the intestine are somewhat offset. 

This again provides a strong reason for why women must increase their calcium intake during pregnancy so that the bones are not deprived of these essential nutrients. [7] [8]

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How can women avoid the effects of pregnancy and lactation on their bones?

  • The best way to help your bones stay healthy and strong is to ensure your diet contains an increased amount of calcium. Women are advised to include foods containing calcium and vitamin D in their regular diet during pregnancy and lactation. Drinking a glass of milk twice a day is also considered an effective way to improve the calcium supply to the body. Other foods women can include in their diet are yogurt, cheese, eggs, and green leafy vegetables. [9]
  • Women can also consider using calcium supplements during pregnancy and lactation to avoid the deficiency of these nutrients. In pregnancy, iron supplements are also given to meet the increasing demand. Pregnant women should be aware that calcium and iron supplements should not be taken together as calcium will affect the absorption of iron. [10]
  • You should visit a physician when you are planning a pregnancy. Your physician would recommend a few tests including blood tests to assess your calcium and vitamin D levels. If the results of the tests indicate a deficiency of these nutrients, you may have to start using calcium and vitamin D supplements before you get pregnant. This will help you develop healthier bones and minimize the risk of osteoporosis. 
  • Limiting the intake of alcohol and avoiding smoking are highly recommended for improving bone health. Smoking and alcohol intake can increase the risk of miscarriage and other complications in pregnancy. At the same time, it may also stimulate faster bone loss and worsen your bone mineral density.

Conclusion

Pregnancy is a beautiful phase in the life of women. The joy of motherhood is unmatchable. The phase of breastfeeding also brings about a mix of emotions ranging from happiness to anxiety about increased responsibilities. 

Don’t forget to take good care of yourself. Ignoring your bone health during pregnancy can make your bones weaker.

Women should not ignore the increased demands on their bones during pregnancy and lactation and adopt appropriate ways to maintain normal bone mineral density. 

References: 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4266784/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8088078/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9325501/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17685081/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16580279/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6206424/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22747842/
  8. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151105113542.htm
  9. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/86/6/2344/2848380
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5561751/

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