Parents know that getting the recommended daily amount of calcium is essential to their little one's growth. Calcium promotes bone and tooth strength throughout childhood and into the baby's adulthood years, and some evidence suggests it's even important in warding off many diseases and ailments.

    But what is calcium, exactly? Presented here is a helpful FAQ about the mineral itself and how parents can make sure their children have the right amount. 

What is Calcium? 

    Calcium is a naturally occurring, soft alkaline (metallic) mineral and the fifth most common element of the Earth's crust. It is among the basic "building blocks" of cell organisms, and it's also the most common metal in many animals. Calcium is also frequently used in construction materials, and in fact the first human use of the mineral dates back to the Roman Empire, where it was used in the creation of quicklime.

    Along with certain phosphates, calcium combines to form hydroxylapatite, the basic mineral compound of bones and teeth. The phosphates are commonly found in fruits and vegetables, while the calcium comes from dairy products, some fish, and grains.

Are there other sources of calcium besides dairy products?

    Dairy products are the traditional source of calcium, especially milk enriched with Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb the mineral efficiently. However, calcium is found in an abundance of other sources from across the food pyramid: seaweeds such as kelp and hijiki; fish such as salmon; nuts and seeds like almonds and sesame; various types of beans; citrus oranges; and dark green vegetables such as collard greens, okra, rutabaga, and broccoli. Some brands of orange juice and soy milk (milk distilled from the Chinese soy bean) are also fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. Many health and vitamin stores also offer calcium supplements in tablet form.

How soon should the baby begin ingesting calcium?

    A child's skeletal system begins forming while still in the womb, and recent studies by the University of Tennesee at Memphis suggest that mothers with calcium deficiencies should take supplements while pregnant, to ensure the baby is born with a healthy bone structure already in place. While the muscularskeletal sytem does most of its growth and forming during childhood, bone density in most adults continues to develop throughout their twenties. 

What is lactose intolerance, and what if my child has it?

    Lactose intolerance, in its simplest terms, is an inability to digest dairy products. Some people, particularly those of non-Indo European descent, are unable to produce an enzyme known as lactase, which allows the body to break down the dairy ingredient lactose. People with lactose intolerance are usually advised to drink fortified soy milk or orange juice, and to take calcium supplements of no more than 500 mg each day.

How much calcium should children get? Is it possible to ingest too much calcium?

    In certain cases, persons ingesting too much calcium put themselves at risk for kidney stones, a severely painful urinary tract condition that may require surgery. Too little calcium can result in osteoporosis, an condition of weakened bones and teeth that is nontheless relatively easy to treat with calcium supplements.
For children, experts recommend the following daily allowances:
0 - 6 months: 210 mg
6 to 12 months: 270 mg
1 to 3 years: 500 mg
4 to 8 years: 800 mg
9 to 18 years: 1300 mg

As a reference, one cup of milk typically contains 300 mg of calcium. As children grow, their need for calcium expands, but so does their diet and the range of foods they can consume. And since they'll probably ask, ice cream isn’t that good for them: one cup of ice cream contains just 170 mg of calcium.