Background: Women may lose bone during lactation because of calcium lost in breast milk. We studied whether calcium supplementation prevents bone loss during lactation or augments bone gain after weaning.
Methods: We conducted two randomized, placebo-controlled trials of calcium supplementation (1 g per day) in postpartum women. In one trial (the study of lactation), 97 lactating and 99 nonlactating women were enrolled a mean (+/-SD) of 16+/-2 days post partum. In the second trial (the study of weaning), 95 lactating women who weaned their infants in the 2 months after enrollment and 92 nonlactating women were enrolled 5.6+/-0.8 months post partum. The bone density of the total body, lumbar spine, and forearm was measured at enrollment and after three and six months.
Results: The bone density of the lumbar spine decreased by 4.2 percent in the lactating women receiving calcium and by 4.9 percent in those receiving placebo and increased by 2.2 and 0.4 percent, respectively, in the nonlactating women (P<0.001 for the effect of lactation; P= 0.01 for the effect of calcium). After weaning, the bone density of the lumbar spine increased by 5.9 percent in the lactating women receiving calcium and by 4.4 percent in those receiving placebo; it increased by 2.5 and 1.6 percent, respectively, in the nonlactating women (P<0.001 for the effects of lactation and calcium). There was no effect of either lactation or calcium supplementation on bone density in the forearm, and there was no effect of calcium supplementation on the calcium concentration in breast milk.
Conclusions: Calcium supplementation does not prevent bone loss during lactation and only slightly enhances the gain in bone density after weaning.