In Summary
  • You see, just because you’re breastfeeding, it doesn’t mean that you need more calcium. Yes, really. When you start breastfeeding, your body adapts in two ways to handle your extra calcium needs.
  • Once the baby’s diet begins to be supplemented with other foods or liquids (the “partial breastfeeding phase”), recovery begins. Evidence suggests that by 12 months, breastfeeding mothers have fully recovered their bone mineral density.

One of the most curious pieces of advice I receive when I tell people I’m breastfeeding is, “I hope you’re drinking plenty of milk.” I say curious because it doesn’t quite add up. You don’t see other animals who breastfeed their young drink milk, do you? It sounds ridiculous, and it is ridiculous.

I don’t drink milk. I haven’t had a glass since I was 18. I didn’t drink any milk throughout any of my pregnancies and I am not drinking any milk as I breastfeed my daughter. And both of us are just fine. Does that mean I am increasing my dietary intake of non-dairy sources of calcium (eg sukuma, broccoli, oats, sesame seeds, soybeans)? Not exactly.

You see, just because you’re breastfeeding, it doesn’t mean that you need more calcium. Yes, really. When you start breastfeeding, your body adapts in two ways to handle your extra calcium needs.

First, you excrete less calcium in your urine. Second, a particular hormone actually causes you to lose bone (for those of you who want to know, it’s called parathyroid-related peptide (PTHr-P). The hormone pulls calcium out of your bones and into your blood. And since you have high levels of calcium in your blood, any extra dietary calcium won’t be absorbed.

Once the baby’s diet begins to be supplemented with other foods or liquids (the “partial breastfeeding phase”), recovery begins. Evidence suggests that by 12 months, breastfeeding mothers have fully recovered their bone mineral density. Interestingly, research indicates that a woman’s bones are restored to normal within six months to a year after menstruation starts or she weans her child.

More interesting still is that this process of producing breastmilk may actually reduce the risk of osteoporosis, the bone disease. It appears that the more months a woman spends breastfeeding, the lower her risk for hip fractures later in life.

Despite all this information, many breastfeeding mothers still worry about getting enough calcium. I would suggest that anyone wanting to boost their calcium status should try non-dairy sources because it appears that staying away from dairy can help breastfeeding mothers lower the risk of allergies in their children.