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Calcium


What Is Calcium? 

Calcium is a nutrient that builds strong bones. It helps the body in lots of other ways too. Calcium keeps the nerves and muscles working. It also plays a role in keeping the heart healthy.

Why Do Kids Need Calcium?

We only get one chance to build strong bones — when we're kids and teens. Children who get enough calcium start their adult lives with the strongest bones possible. That protects them against bone loss later in life.

Young kids and babies need calcium and vitamin D to prevent a disease called rickets. Rickets softens the bones and causes bow legs, stunted growth, and sometimes sore or weak muscles.

Where Does Calcium Come From?

Calcium is found in food. Some foods are very high in calcium. Dairy foods like these are among the best natural sources of calcium:

The percentage of fat in milk and other dairy foods doesn't affect their calcium content — skim, 1%, 2%, or whole all have about the same amount of calcium. Your health care provider will let you know which type of milk is right for your child.

Of course, some kids can't eat dairy. They have to get calcium from other foods, such as:

Because calcium is so important, food companies often add it to cereal, bread, juice, and other kid-friendly foods.

How Much Calcium Does My Child Need?

Calcium is measured in milligrams (mg). We need different amounts at different stages of life. It's best if kids get most of their calcium from food. If that's not possible, health care providers might suggest a calcium supplement.

Babies

Babies get their calcium from breast milk or formula:

The only types of milk babies should have are breast milk or formula. Don't give cow's milk or any other kind of milk to babies younger than 1 year old.

Kids and Teens

Kids need more calcium as they get older to support their growing bones:

How Can I Help My Child Get Enough Calcium?

Babies get all their calcium from breast milk or formula. Young kids and school-age kids who eat a healthy diet with plenty of dairy also get enough. But preteens and teens may need to add more calcium-rich foods to their diet.

Try these tips to make sure kids and teens get enough calcium:

Kids who can't eat dairy may not get enough calcium. If your child has lactose intolerance, a milk allergy, or eats a vegan diet, talk to your health care provider about calcium and vitamin D.

What About Vitamin D?

People need vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium. Without it, calcium can't get where it needs to go to build strong bones.

Vitamin D isn't in many foods that kids eat. Because of this, health care providers often recommend supplements.

Babies who have only breast milk may need a vitamin D supplement. Baby formula has vitamin D added, so babies who drink more than 32 ounces of formula a day don't need extra vitamin D.

Ask your health care provider if your baby or child needs a vitamin D supplement. 

Date reviewed: August 2017


Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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