What Is Calcium? Calcium is a mineral 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: milk yogurt hard cheeses, like cheddar The percentage of fat in milk and other dairy foods doesn't affect their calcium content — nonfat, 1%, 2%, or whole milk 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. Some kids can't eat dairy. They have to get calcium from other foods, such as: calcium-fortified soy drinks calcium-set tofu edamame (soybeans) broccoli, collard greens, kale, chard, Chinese cabbage, and other leafy greens almonds and sesame seeds white beans, red beans, and chickpeas oranges, figs, and prunes 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: Babies younger than 6 months old need 200 mg of calcium a day. Babies 6 to 11 months old need 260 mg of calcium a day. The only types of milk babies should have are breast milk or formula. Don't give cow's milk, goat's milk, or homemade formula to babies younger than 1 year old. Kids and Teens Kids need more calcium as they get older to support their growing bones: Kids 1 to 3 years old need 700 mg of calcium a day (2–3 servings). Kids 4 to 8 years old need 1,000 mg of calcium a day (2–3 servings). Kids and teens 9 to 18 years old need 1,300 mg of calcium a day (4 servings). 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: Make parfaits with layers of plain yogurt, fruit, and whole-grain cereal. Make smoothies with fresh fruit and low-fat milk or calcium-fortified soy or almond milk. Add fresh fruit or unsweetened apple butter to cottage cheese or yogurt. Add a drop of strawberry or chocolate syrup to regular milk. Avoid store-bought flavored milk drinks because they can have a lot of sugar. Sprinkle low-fat cheese on top of snacks and meals. Add white beans to favorite soups. Add sesame seeds to baked goods or sprinkle on vegetables. Serve hummus with cut-up vegetables. Add tofu to a stir-fry. Use almond butter instead of peanut butter. Serve edamame as a snack. Top salads or cereals with chickpeas and slivered almonds. Serve more dark green, leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, collard greens, or Chinese cabbage) with meals. 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 supplements. 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. So, health care providers often recommend supplements. Breastfed babies need a vitamin D supplement, starting soon after birth. 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. Back to Articles Related Articles 3 Ways to Build Strong Bones We build almost all our bone density when we're kids and teens. Kids with strong bones have a better chance of avoiding bone weakness later in life. Here's how parents can help. Read More Vitamin D Vitamin D is needed for strong bones, but is hard to come by because it's found in few foods. Here's how to make sure kids get enough vitamin D. Read More Rickets Rickets is when bones become soft and weak, usually because a child doesn't get enough vitamin D. Most kids with rickets get better with treatment. Read More Bones, Muscles, and Joints Without bones, muscles, and joints, we couldn't stand, walk, run, or even sit. The musculoskeletal system supports our bodies, protects our organs from injury, and enables movement. Read More Low Calcium in Babies (Hypocalcemia) Hypocalcemia is when the blood has too little calcium. It can be treated with calcium and vitamin D supplements. Read More Bow Legs (Genu Varum) Bow legs is when the legs curve outward at the knees while the feet and ankles touch. Infants and toddlers often have bow legs. It's rarely serious and usually goes away on its own. Read More Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding Making a decision to breastfeed or formula feed your baby is a personal one. There are some points to consider to help you decide which option is best for you and your baby. Read More Is Homemade Baby Formula Safe? Parents might want to make their own infant formula for many reasons. But commercially prepared formula is the best and safest choice. Here's why. Read More Does Nonfat Milk Provide the Same Nutrients as Whole Milk? Find out what the experts have to say. Read More When Should Kids Switch to Nonfat Milk? Find out what the experts have to say. Read More Eating During Pregnancy To eat well during pregnancy, your extra calories should come from nutritious foods that contribute to your baby's growth and development. Read More Broken Bones Many kids will have a broken bone at some point. Here's what to expect. Read More Milk Allergy Milk allergy can cause serious reactions. Find out how to keep kids safe. Read More Figuring Out Food Labels Find out how to make healthy food choices for your family by reading food labels. Read More Vitamins and Minerals Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that the body needs to work properly. They boost the immune system, promote normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs. Read More Lactose Intolerance If you have lactose intolerance, you're not alone. Millions of Americans have the condition. Check out these tips on dealing with lactose intolerance. Read More Becoming a Vegetarian People choose vegetarianism for a variety of reasons. This article describes different types of vegetarianism and provides advice on ways for vegetarians to get all the nutrients they need. Read More Minerals Just like vitamins, minerals help your body grow, develop, and stay healthy. Find out more about minerals in this article for kids. Read More Your Bones Where would you be without your bones? Learn more about the skeletal system in this article for kids. Read More Calcium Your parents were right to make you drink milk when you were little. It's loaded with calcium, a mineral vital for building strong bones and teeth. Read More Bones, Muscles, and Joints Our bones, muscles, and joints form our musculoskeletal system and enable us to do everyday physical activities. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.