Nearly three out of four pregnant women aren't getting the critical calcium needed during their pregnancy. Doctors widely recommend four 8-ounce glasses of milk per day to help meet their required 1200mg of calcium per day. In addition, three out of four nursing mothers skip milk and dairy altogether in an effort to shed pregnancy pounds. This recent survey of more than 1,000 pregnant and postpartum women is troubling to experts who caution that keeping milk off the maternity menu shortchanges both babies and moms.

"An expectant mother needs extra calcium to help build her baby's bones and maintain her own bone mass," said Dr. Sarah Berga, an expert in reproductive endocrinology and women's health and associate medical director of the Clinical Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "A pregnant woman's body takes care of the fetus first. If a mother's calcium intake is too low, calcium is taken from her bones to meet the needs of the baby. This depletes the mother's bone mass and may lead to osteoporosis down the road," she said.

According to Dr. Berga, milk is the best source of calcium because it is one of the few food sources combining calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D enhances the body's absorption of calcium -- for both mom and baby.

Experts say good nutrition combined with the right mix of exercise is the best prescription for women before, during and after pregnancy.

"When a woman is pregnant, she should be certain to gain the proper amount of weight. Her goal should be staying reasonably fit and eating the most nutritious foods both for herself and her baby," said celebrity trainer and new mom Kathy Kaehler. "After the baby is born, new moms should ease into an exercise program and continue drinking milk since studies show lowfat milk may actually aid in weight loss."

Join the Baby Booster Club at whymilk.com

Women can learn more about the benefits of milk before, during and after pregnancy by logging on to www.whymilk.com and joining the Calcium for Two Club. On the site, there's a great interactive tool that provides nutrition and exercise tips specific to each stage of pregnancy. In addition, Kaehler will conduct a live on-line chat for women of childbearing years on October 19 at 8 p.m. (EST). Following are guidelines for putting milk on the menu at each stage of the childbearing cycle.

Preconception: Drink three beforehand

Women trying to get pregnant should incorporate good eating habits, including drinking at least three 8-ounce glasses of milk per day.

"Many women don't even know they are pregnant until 4 to 6 weeks gestation and these weeks represent a critical stage of fetal development," said Dr. Berga. "That's why it's important to incorporate nutrient-rich foods like milk when there's a possibility of becoming pregnant."

Women who are trying to conceive should get at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day or about three glasses of milk. They may also want to start taking prenatal vitamins and should maintain a healthy lifestyle, which includes moderate exercise and eliminating alcohol and tobacco, ideally before conception.

Pregnancy: More milk on the menu

Pregnant women need to increase their calcium intake to 1,200 mg or the equivalent of four 8-ounce glasses of milk per day to the provide extra calcium they need for their baby and to maintain their own bone density. Besides calcium, milk contains eight other essential nutrients that are beneficial for mother and baby, including vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, protein, niacin and riboflavin.

"The calcium and other nutrients found naturally in milk are important not just for building strong bones and teeth, but also for development of the baby's nervous system, heart and muscles," said Dr. Berga.

Postpartum: Milk helps with weight loss

Once the baby is born, a new mom should maintain her good nutrition habits. Breastfeeding women, especially, need to continue to drink four 8-ounce glasses of milk per day.

All new mothers, even those not breastfeeding, should continue to drink lowfat milk, not just for nutrition, but for fitness, too. A recent study from the University of Tennessee showed that a diet high in calcium from lowfat dairy foods, such as milk, may actually change the way fat cells work, causing them to make less fat.

"Drinking lowfat milk may help new mothers lose weight," said Kaehler. "We're learning that combining the milk habit with moderate exercise is best for total fitness not just postpartum, but for a lifetime."

The 'got milk?®' Milk Mustache marketing campaign is jointly funded by the nation's fluid milk processors and America's dairy farmers. The multi-faceted campaign was initiated to educate consumers and correct misconceptions about milk. A series of educational brochures for consumers is available by calling 1-800-WHY-MILK or by visiting the milk Web site at www.whymilk.com .

'got milk?®' is licensed by Dairy Management Inc.(TM) (DMI) and the National Fluid Milk Processor Education Board.

DMI and state, regional and international organizations manage the American Dairy Association®, the National Dairy Council® and the U.S. Dairy Export Council®.

The MilkPEP program was developed under the guidance of the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, an organization funded by U.S. milk processors.


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