Regardless of how you feel about dairy, there’s no denying this fact: it’s a rich and highly bioavailable source of calcium!
For a host of personal and medical reasons, parents may choose not to offer their baby dairy foods. For instance, if your baby lives with a Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) you definitely don’t want to be offering dairy unless medically advised by a Registered Dietitian or your health care provider.
When a baby lives with CMPA it means they typically react to the protein found in milk. Allergic reactions to milk can range from mild to severe. The only way to deal with a milk allergy is to avoid all dairy and dairy products. For breastfeeding mothers, they would also need to omit this from their diet as dairy protein is transferred through breastmilk. For those using formula, it would be important to find a product that is suitable for baby and hypoallergenic.
On a different note, babies raised in vegan households would likely not be fed dairy as vegans eat an exclusively plant-based diet.
Regardless of dietary pattern, when you begin to transition your baby to solid food, the emphasis across the board for all babies is to start with complementary iron rich foods. Breastmilk and formula provide sufficient calcium at this age.
Once high iron foods become regularly eaten, and the amount of breastmilk or formula your baby drinks starts to decrease, you do want to start offering your baby and toddler food sources of calcium.
What about my dairy free breastfed baby?
Our recommendation is to continue to offer breastmilk until at least one year or age or continue as long as you and baby would like! Human milk contains less calcium than cow’s milk, but the calcium in human milk is absorbed twice as well as the calcium in cow’s milk. If you have removed dairy from your own diet it may be wise to take a calcium supplement to ensure you have adequate intake. A registered dietitian can you help choose the right supplement and dose.
What about my dairy free formula fed baby?
Infant and toddler dairy free formula contains calcium. Typically, extra calcium is added to formulas because less of the calcium is absorbed compared to breast milk.
Why is calcium important for babies?
Think about it, your baby is growing at a very rapid rate during their first year of life. Many, will triple their birth weight! That’s a loottttt of growing. To help support that growth and specifically, their bone development, calcium is needed. It’s also an important mineral that helps your heart, muscles, and nerves work the way they should.
Regardless of whether the calcium comes from dairy or not, the be all and end all is that calcium is important for all children.
How much calcium does my child need?
What non-dairy foods contain calcium?
While dairy foods do contain an abundant amount of calcium, there are other foods that also contain calcium.
For reference, one cup of cow’s milk contains 300mg of calcium, which is absorbed about 30% better than the calcium in soy beverage.
Is there anything I can do to increase the absorption of calcium?
Yes! And you’re probably already doing it. Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin helps the body to absorb and utilize calcium effectively. Think of them as a team, they’re good for one another!
You’re likely offering your baby vitamin D drops, and if that’s the case, keep it up!
Does my dairy free baby need a calcium supplement?
While we wish this answer was simple, it’s not. We highly recommend discussing supplementation with your health care provider or a pediatric dietitian. The reality is, calcium is a critical mineral required for growth and while many foods contain calcium, we want to make sure that our little eaters are getting that in. And, we know all too well, little eaters can also be very sporadic or selective in their food choices.
We hope this was informative. If you’d like some inspiration for baby and toddler friendly meal ideas that pack a lot of nutrition, consider preparing something from our Whole Food Recipes for Your Baby ebook.
The following recipes in our e-book contain dairy-free sources of calcium:
- Brain boosting tofu strips
- Carrot tahini dip
- Fruity tofu yogurt
- Mighty kale chips
- Salmon and sweet potato cakes