Calcium supplements for kids

By Katie Newsome, MPH, RD, LD Mar 07, 2022 • 6 min

Calcium is an essential mineral found mainly in bone. It's needed for strengthening bones and teeth, and a small amount of calcium circulates through the blood to keep our hearts healthy. It's important for kids to get adequate amounts of calcium for the prevention of osteoporosis later in life. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes weak and brittle bones. Although food sources should be the first line of defense against calcium deficiency, sometimes supplements can be necessary.

How much calcium does my child need?

Calcium requirements vary by age. As children grow and develop, their bodies need more of this essential mineral for bone growth. Many children do not consume enough calcium due to picky eating, lactose intolerance or because they’re following vegan or vegetarian diets. Daily recommended calcium intake varies by age. Parents should aim for the following daily calcium recommendations for kids:

  • 0-6 months: 200 mg

  • 7-12 months: 260 mg

  • 1-3 years: 700 mg 

  • 4-8 years: 1,000 mg

  • 9-18 years: 1,300 mg 

Timing of calcium intake is also important. We want to try to break up our intake throughout the day. When taking supplements, aim for no more than 500 mg of calcium at a time rather than getting a day’s worth of calcium all at once. Spreading out calcium intake throughout the day can help with absorption.

Calcium supplementation

Many parents worry about their child's health and development. If you're concerned about your child's eating habits and intake of important vitamins and minerals, you're not alone. As children grow and develop, their eating patterns change, and it can be hard for parents to keep up. The good news is you can help ensure your child is getting all the nutrients they need through supplements. If your healthcare provider recommends a calcium supplement for your child, there are some things to keep in mind.

Types of calcium supplements

The two most common types of calcium supplements are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Both types of calcium can help minimize the risk of calcium deficiency. Calcium citrate is more easily absorbed and can be taken with or without food. Calcium carbonate—a less costly option—is absorbed better when taken with food.

Supplement safety

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not evaluate supplements before they are sold to consumers. Be your own best advocate and do your research before purchasing supplements. Here are a few tips on how to maximize safety when shopping for supplements:

  • Look for products that are third-party tested

  • Use government websites to research ingredients

  • Visit the product website to thoroughly read claims

  • Always talk to your doctor before deciding on a new supplement regimen

Calcium toxicity

Although calcium is an essential mineral needed for proper growth, it's possible to consume too much. Be sure your child stays within the recommended daily intake for calcium and doesn't exceed the upper limits.

The upper limits for calcium intake by age are:

  • 0-6 months: 1,000 mg

  • 7-12 months: 1,500 mg

  • 1-8 years: 2,500 mg

  • 9-18 years: 3,000 mg 

Extremely high calcium intake through supplementation can lead to unwanted side effects, including:

  • Constipation

  • Fatigue

  • Irregular heart rhythms

  • Kidney stones

  • Nausea

We also want to avoid interaction between supplements and medications. The best way to do this is to time calcium intake. Talk to your healthcare provider about which medications interact with calcium supplements.

How to increase calcium absorption

While diet and supplements are good sources of calcium, your child can also absorb calcium through vitamin D and exercise. Vitamin D is important for calcium uptake and absorption. You can get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight as well as some foods, such as salmon and mushrooms. Exercises like strength training, running, kickboxing and walking can help ensure healthy bones and teeth by decreasing bone loss. 

There are many reasons your child may not be getting enough calcium. Always aim for dietary sources of calcium first, but it can be a challenge if your child is a picky eater or has lactose intolerance. Supplements may be an option for filling in the gaps to keep your child healthy and boost lifelong bone health. Speak with your healthcare provider before deciding to give your child calcium supplements.

Published March 2022.

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