Babies: Will calcium supplements slow growth?

I am giving my baby vitamins that contain calcium. I've always heard calcium is good for children's teeth. However, a doctor told me that administering calcium to a child would cause the child to slow or stop growing because it hardens the bones. Is this true?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

There is no evidence that supplemental calcium, within normal ranges, will cause bones to harden or slow growth. Calcium excesses can cause calcification of bones and soft tissues, kidney stones and inhibition of iron absorption.

Calcium is an important mineral for a child's bones and teeth formation, as well as other things. A baby gets all the calcium it needs from either breastmilk or formula.

The calcium in breastmilk is better absorbed than that found in formula. The average intake of 240 milligrams of calcium from 750 ml. of human milk is adequate, whereas an intake of 400 milligrams from formula is needed in the first six months of life. From six months to a year, a baby needs about 600 milligrams of calcium a day from formula, if he is not nursing. Because the calcium in breastmilk is so well absorbed, and because formula is manufactured to contain the necessary requirements of calcium, supplementation is usually unnecessary.

Too much calcium can cause problems, but only at very high levels. An adult can safely take up to 2,500 milligrams of calcium per day. The upper limit of calcium intake for a child has not been specified. Unfortunately, there is extremely limited data to determine the mineral requirement of infants over one year. One study of healthy infants from 21 to 33 months showed a large range in calcium intake from 600 to 1200 milligrams.

For your son, a vitamin supplement containing calcium up to 100 percent of his daily needs would be safe, but is most likely a waste of money. A body adapts to calcium intake by decreasing its absorption when ingestion goes up. A child getting a small amount of calcium will absorb a larger percentage of that calcium than will a child receiving a large amount. It seems that the intestinal tract and other dietary interactions act as a barrier to calcium absorption when intakes are high.

You can determine how much calcium your baby is getting by adding up the calcium in his formula with the calcium from his supplements. If he is getting more than 100 percent of his estimated requirement of 600 milligrams, the supplement is most likely not needed. However, if it is not excessive, it is most likely not doing any harm.

As in most cases, nutrients are best optioned from foods in order to avoid toxicities. Once your baby is weaned, calcium rich foods should take the place of breastmilk or formula. If enough calcium containing foods are not eaten, then you will want to consider a calcium supplement or calcium supplemented food item such as orange juice or cereals.

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