Why does Calcium Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

RachelMS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS

Read time: 3 minutes

What to know about meeting your and your child’s calcium needs

  • Learn why calcium is critical for your health

  • How much calcium is needed by age

  • Which foods are good sources of calcium

What does calcium do?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body.2 While this mineral 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 heartbeat1,2

Getting enough calcium is critical from infancy through adulthood. When you’re not getting enough of this mineral in your diet, the body pulls calcium from your bones when it needs more.1 This means that low calcium intake over time will cause bones to weaken, putting a child at risk for rickets and an adult at risk for osteoporosis.1

How much calcium is needed?

Below are the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for calcium:

  • Babies 0 – 6 months: 200 mg

  • Infants 7 – 12 months: 260 mg

  • Children 1 – 3 years: 700 mg

  • Children 4 – 8 years: 1,000 mg

  • Teens 9 – 18 years: 1,300 mg

  • Adults 19 – 50: 1,000mg

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 1,000mg1

Food sources of calcium

While most people link calcium with dairy, in addition to dairy there are many other food sources of calcium to include in the diet.

Getting a variety of calcium-rich foods can also increase 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 powerful antioxidants.

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*, yogurt, cheese)

  • Fortified foods and beverages such as: whole grain cereal, whole wheat bread, orange juice, tofu, nondairy beverages such as soy and almond milk, tofu

  • Canned salmon and sardines, both with bones

  • Spinach, turnip greens, kale, Chinese cabbage, broccoli

  • Soybeans, chia seeds, pinto beans

*Children under 1 year should not drink cow’s milk. Read more here: How Do I Introduce Milk to my Toddler

Certain substances like oxalic acid (found in spinach, collard greens, sweet potato, and beans) as well as wheat bran prevent calcium absorption to some degree.5,6 But know that these foods provide many other nutrients that are important for health, so it’s important to keep them in our diet and simply aim for many sources of calcium throughout the day.

Have questions about including calcium-rich foods in your or your child’s diet? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am - 6pm (ET), and Saturday – Sunday 8am - 2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Calcium in your baby and toddler’s diet

While breastmilk and infant formula usually provide all the calcium needed for babies, it is important to begin offering calcium-rich foods once your little one is ready for solids and throughout their childhood.4,7

In fact, childhood through the teenage years is the most important time for building good bone mass for life.7 So getting in the habit of eating foods rich in calcium from an early age is important for long term bone health.

Dairy foods high in calcium are also typically high in protein and fat, both of which are also important for your baby and toddler. Feeding your little one a healthy and varied diet full of whole foods will help provide them with not only the calcium they need a but also many other nutrients.

One fact to keep in mind as you plan your and your children’s diet is that the body absorbs calcium best when it’s spread out through the day, and not eaten all at once.3 3

Learn about: Why Yogurt is a Great First Food for Baby

Tips to getting enough calcium

Provide a variety of calcium-rich foods to your baby or toddler.

The goal is to introduce several different food sources of calcium throughout the day to not only help build your baby and toddler’s taste preferences, but also to aim for a good calcium intake average over the week.

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:

  • Firm tofu made with calcium sulfate: ½ cup contains about 250 mg

  • Mozzarella, part skim: 1 oz contains about 220 mg

  • Plain yogurt: 4 oz (1/2 cup) contains about 200 mg

  • Sardines (with bones): 1 oz contains about 105 mg

  • Cow’s milk*: 4 ounces contains 150 mg

  • Soybeans, cooked: ½ cup contains about 130 mg

  • Spinach, cooked: ½ cup contains about 123 mg

  • Turnip greens and kale, cooked: ½ cup contains about 95 mg

  • Chia seeds: 1 Tablespoon contains about 75 mg

  • Pinto beans: ½ cup contains about 55 mg

  • 6” Corn tortilla: 1 tortilla contains about 46 mg

  • Whole wheat bread: 1 slice contains about 30 mg

  • Dried figs: 1 fig has about 13 mg

  • Many dairy alternatives, orange juices, and breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium, check the labels for exact amounts1,8

*Children under 1 year should not drink cow’s milk. Read more here: How Do I Introduce Milk to my Toddler

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

No need to track every milligram of calcium! The goal is to provide a few sources throughout the day on most days. This way your little one’s calcium intake over the week averages about the amount they need.

Recipe and meal ideas to help increase calcium

Here are some fun and delicious recipe ideas that include calcium-rich foods. Be sure to provide your little one with foods in a texture they can handle. Feel free to mash any of the below recipes up should your little one need a softer or smoother consistency!

Fruit and Yogurt Pops

Fluffy Spinach Scrambled Eggs

Cheesy Peasy Pasta *Try subbing out the peas for chopped, sauteed kale for even more calcium-impact!

Kale Pesto Chicken Quesadilla *Try using a corn tortilla for increased calcium

Chat with your child’s health care professional should you have questions about their calcium intake.

Don’t lose sight of your own calcium needs

When taking care of our children, we often forget that our health matters too. Choose calcium-rich foods throughout your day to help make sure you are meeting your needs.

Here are some great resources:

Meal Plan to Build your and your baby’s Bones during Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Which Nutrients do I Need during Pregnancy?

What to Eat while Breastfeeding

Let's Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am - 6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am - 2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Why does Vitamin D Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama

Starting Solids: Signs of Readiness

Introduce Solids: First Foods and Textures