Pregnancy and Bone Health

The impact of pregnancy on the health of the bones is something that has been studied and observed for many decades. It has been shown that pregnancy can both be of detriment and of benefit to the bones. This is something that we are going to explore and explain today!

As we all surely already know, pregnancy places several additional demands on the body. It is important therefore to take extra care to maintain optimum health during this time.

The majority of people are unlikely to experience any serious harm to the health of their bones during pregnancy, but it is something that can sometimes occur. Even though the chances of experiencing a problem may be low, it is still certainly worth paying extra attention to the health of the bones during pregnancy. This is not only for the benefit of the parent, but also for the baby.

Calcium in the Womb

Before babies are born they will require a great deal of calcium as they grow in the womb. This is essential for the development of the skeleton and is especially important in the final three months before birth. If the baby is not receiving enough calcium in the womb then this mineral will be supplied from the bones of the parent.

Protection During Pregnancy

Studies have shown that pregnant people are better able to absorb calcium from both food and supplements than non-pregnant people. It can also be observed that during this time more oestrogen will be produced, which contributes greatly to the protection of the bones. These facts therefore support the notion that pregnancy can help to protect and improve the overall health of the bones. 

Bone Mass

If a loss of bone mass is experienced during pregnancy then this is a problem that will generally be resolved naturally by the body a few months after the baby is born. However, if the baby is breastfed then this corrective process may take longer.

There have been cases where osteoporosis develops during pregnancy and also during the breastfeeding period.

Bone Benefits of Pregnancy

There is research to suggest that the more times a person has been pregnant, there’re their bone density will be. This is beneficial for long term health because it means that the chance of this person experiencing a bone fracture is decreased.

Pregnancy During Adolescence

When a person gets pregnant before they have reached the end of their teenage years then they will be at an increased risk of pregnancy related bone loss. This can also put them at an increased risk of osteoporosis later in life.

This increased risk of osteoporosis is because they have not yet reached the peak of their bone mass development. Therefore, the babies bones may compete with the bones of the parent for calcium. This danger can be mitigated to some extent with an extra effort to consume ample amounts of calcium, both during pregnancy and when breastfeeding. 

The Impact of Breastfeeding

Experts state that the process of breastfeeding can cause between a 3 and 5% decrease in total bone mass. However,  the research also shows that this is not a permanent loss and can be regained once the child is no longer breastfeeding. Approximately six months after breastfeeding finishes, the parent's bone mass should have completely returned to normal. It is generally thought that this loss occurs because of the babies need for high levels of calcium during this time.

The length of time that breastfeeding goes on for varies from parent to parent, with some choosing to continue feeding their child in this way for several years.

Healthy Sources of Calcium

As the body requires greater amounts of calcium during pregnancy, it is essential to make an extra effort to include healthy foods that contain high levels of this mineral. The official recommendation for pregnant people is 1,000mg a day. However, in the case of pregnant teenagers this amount should be closer to 1,300mg.

Healthy sources of calcium include:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Tofu
  • Almonds
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Fortified cereals

Exercise and Bone Health

Similarly to how your muscles grow during exercise, your bones too benefit from regular workouts. This is a concept that should be utilised during pregnancy in order to help keep the bones strong. Weight-bearing exercises are believed to be of the most benefit to the bones, but other types of exercise can also be effective and helpful. 

There is much evidence to suggest that exercising during pregnancy can help to reduce aching in the back, bloating, constipation and swelling. Exercise can also help to keep energy levels up, maintain muscle tone and strength, and promote a positive sleep cycle. Exercising during pregnancy can also make it easier to get back to full health and in shape post-pregnancy. 

References

1) https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/pregnancy

2) https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/how-long-should-i-breastfeed