Nutrition & Food

Vetted by J Rajesh, MBBS, MD (Ped.) on 24 Dec, 2021
Nutrition & Food
Calcium Deficiency in Babies: Know the Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

Calcium is a vital nutrient for healthy bones and teeth. It is also essential for other body functions like blood clotting and heart, muscle, and nerve functioning. Around 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in bones. To perform daily functions, the human body needs steady levels of calcium. Children require an adequate intake of calcium to minimize the risk of fractures and bone softening diseases, such as rickets in childhood and osteoporosis in later years.

Symptoms of calcium deficiency 

Symptoms of calcium deficiency are not noticeable initially because vitamin D and hormones, such as parathyroid hormone, work to keep calcium levels steady. Children are more likely to develop symptoms when the calcium levels are too low. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Tingling or numbness in fingers 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Tremors 
  • Difficulty walking
  • Lethargy 
  • Seizures or fits
  • Difficulty breathing and using hands
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Brittle nails

Causes of calcium deficiency

Calcium deficiency may occur due to a variety of causes, such as:

  • Low intake of dairy
  • Vitamin D deficiency 
  • Kidney problems
  • Diabetes during pregnancy
  • Premature or difficult birth
  • Low levels of parathyroid hormone
  • Medications such as steroids or diuretics
  • Genetic causes that alter the levels of vitamin D and parathyroid hormone 
  • Lactose intolerance in which the body cannot digest dairy products.

Prevention of calcium deficiency

Simple dietary changes can help your child get enough calcium in a day and prevent calcium deficiency. Babies from six to 11 months require 260 mg of calcium a day, and children between one and three years need 700 mg of calcium in a day. 

Calcium is found in various animal and plant-based foods. Babies can get enough calcium from breast milk or formula. For young kids and school-going children, dairy foods, like milk, curd, and cheese, are the best source of calcium.

Plant-based calcium sources include:

  • Calcium-fortified milk (soymilk, almond milk, rice milk)
  • Tofu
  • Soybeans
  • Almonds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Peanuts
  • White and red beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Oranges
  • Figs
  • Broccoli, kale, and spinach.

Along with calcium, it is essential to include enough vitamin D in your child’s diet as it helps in absorbing calcium.

Here are some tips to increase calcium intake in children:

  • Use almond butter. 
  • Add tofu to stir-fried vegetables. 
  • Sprinkle sesame seeds on baked dishes or vegetables. 
  • Sprinkle cheese on meals or snacks. 
  • Add a drizzle of strawberry/chocolate syrup to regular milk. 
  • Add fruit butter to cottage cheese or curd. 
  • Whip up smoothies using fresh fruits and any plant-based milk or regular milk. 
  • Make parfaits with fruits, cereal, and curd. 
  • Use slivered almonds or boiled chickpeas in salads.
  • Make soups with white beans. 
  • Include leafy greens with meals.

Calcium-rich recipes 

Here are some calcium-rich recipes that your child will like:

  • Banana milkshake: Blend one medium-sized ripe banana, half cup milk, and half cup curd until smooth. You can also add other fruits.
  • Peanut butter milkshake: Blend one tablespoon peanut butter, half cup milk, half cup vanilla ice cream, and two tablespoons milk powder until smooth and serve.
  • Frozen curd fruit pop: Blend one cup curd, quarter cup milk powder, two tablespoons sugar, and one cup chopped fruit until smooth. Pour the mixture into cups and freeze until slushy. Insert a popsicle stick in each cup and freeze until set.
  • Green salad: Stir half cup curd or sour cream, one tablespoon lime juice, half teaspoon lemon zest, and two tablespoons water to get a smooth dressing. Add half a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt to taste. In a serving bowl, put one small chopped carrot and cucumber and half head lettuce. Pour the dressing and toss until the vegetables are evenly coated and serve.
  • Buttermilk: Blend one cup curd, one cup water, two tablespoons lemon juice, one tablespoon chopped ginger, and a pinch of rock salt in a mixer. Add chopped mint or coriander leaves and mix well.
  • Ragi smoothie: Mix 45 grams roasted ragi powder, one and a half bananas, and 15 grams jaggery in a mixer. Add 200 ml of any liquid like regular milk, coconut milk, or buttermilk and blend till smooth.

In some cases, dietary calcium and vitamin D will not be sufficient for your child. Ask your pediatrician if your child requires supplements.