Why Calcium matters for babies, tots and mama

What to Know

  • Learn why calcium is critical for babies and toddlers
  • How much calcium baby needs by age

While calcium is mostly known for its role in keeping our bones and teeth strong, it also helps with several other bodily functions, including:

  • Blood clotting
  • Sending and receiving nervous system signals
  • Muscle contraction and relaxation
  • Hormone release
  • Maintaining a normal heartbeat

Needless to say, getting enough calcium is critical from infancy through adulthood. In fact, prolonged low calcium intake in the diet may cause bones to weaken over time, as the body removes calcium from the bones to maintain levels throughout the body.

Nutritional Guide

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Below are the calcium requirements for infants and children:

  • Babies 0 – 6 months require 200 mg
  • Infants 7 – 12 months require 260 mg
  • Children 1 – 3 years require 700 mg

Breastmilk and infant formula usually provide all the calcium needed for babies through the first year of life.

It is also important to feed your baby or toddler a varied diet including foods rich in calcium once they start solids. One fact to keep in mind as you plan your and your children’s diet is that the body absorbs calcium best when intake is spread throughout the day, and not eaten all at once.

While most people link calcium with dairy, there are many other sources to include in the diet. Getting a variety of calcium-rich foods can also expand the amount of nutrients consumed. For example, plant foods high in calcium, such as greens, beans, and nuts, are also high in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, such as powerful – antioxidants. Dairy foods high in calcium are also typically high in protein and fat, both of which are also important for your baby. By feeding your baby or toddler a healthy and varied diet full of whole foods, you will succeed in providing him with the calcium he needs along with many other nutrients.

Below are some foods that can help meet calcium needs. Be sure to only provide foods and food textures that are appropriate for your child’s age and stage:

  • Dairy (milk {no milk for babies under 1 year}, yogurt, cheese)
  • Kale, broccoli, collards, Chinese cabbage
  • Canned salmon, canned bone-in sardines, almonds, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, tahini, dried beans, blackstrap molasses
  • Fortified whole grain cereal, orange juice, nondairy beverages such as soy and almond milk, tofu

Certain substances like oxalic acid (found in raw spinach, chard and beet greens) and wheat bran inhibit calcium absorption to some degree. But know that their nutrient benefits (high levels of folic acid, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin C, carotenes, and lutein) far outweigh their impact on calcium absorption.

What to Do

Provide a variety of calcium-rich foods to your baby or toddler. Make sure you provide foods and textures that are appropriate for your baby’s age and oral motor skills.

Here’s a cheat sheet of foods with amounts of calcium by serving:

  • Tofu (1 ounce contains 10-175 mg of calcium, depending on the firmness and brand)
  • Sardines (bone in) (1 ounce contains more than 105 mg of calcium)
  • Collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, beet greens (1/2 cup of these cooked greens contains anywhere from 50-125 mg of calcium)
  • Yogurt, unsweetened (2 ounces contains 100-450 mg of calcium)
  • Cow’s milk* (4 ounces contains 150 mg of calcium)
  • Many dairy alternatives and orange juices are fortified with calcium, check the labels for exact amounts
  • Orange (1/2 medium contains 25 mg)
  • Figs (1 figs contain 17 mg)
  • Almonds (1/2 oz contains 38 mg)
  • Sesame seeds (1 Tbsp contains 90 mg)
  • Tahini / ground sesame seeds (1 Tbsp 65 mg)
  • White beans (1/4 cup contains 40 mg)
  • Black Eyed peas (1/4 cup contains 45 mg)

*no cow’s milk for babies under 1 year

**All calcium amounts are approximate

The goal is to introduce several different food sources throughout the day to help build their taste preferences and to aim for a good calcium intake average over the week.

Follow the recommended amount of calcium for your baby or toddler’s age

And don’t go overboard! Too much calcium-rich foods can displace other nutrients

Promote calcium intake through foods for all family members starting early on

Steadily offering calcium-rich foods, starting when your child is a baby, will benefit them as they age. Many children do not receive enough calcium, especially when they reach adolescence, so including these foods from the beginning will help them develop a taste preference for them.

Sources

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