What Is Iron?
Iron is an important dietary mineral needed for many functions in the body, including:
- Transporting oxygen around the body
- Providing energy
- Brain development
- Supporting the immune system in fighting infections.
What Causes Iron Deficiency?
Children are at an increased risk of becoming iron deficient as their increased needs are not met by their diet, especially when they have rapid growth spurts. Some other causes include;
- A low birth weight or premature birth
- Introducing your baby to solids too late
- Not including enough iron rich foods in your little one’s diet
- Offering cow’s milk as their main milk drink
- A vegetarian or vegan diet
- A gastrointestinal condition, e.g. coeliac disease.
For more information on vegetarian nutrition click here
What Are The Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency?
- Reduced appetite
- Increase in sweating
- Less ability to fight infections
- Faltered growth.
How Much Iron Does My Baby Need?
The recommended dietary intake of iron for babies is:
- 0 – 6 months: 0.2mg per day
- 7 – 12 months: 11mg per day.
How Can My Baby Get Iron?
For the first 6 months, your baby will have enough stored iron and get any extra they need through breast milk or infant formula. After 6 months, this won’t be enough for your baby so you will need to start introducing iron rich foods into their diet along with their breast or formula milk.
Foods which contain iron include;
- Red meat
- Iron-fortified rice cereals
- Legumes, such as baked beans, kidney beans, chick peas and lentils
- Green leafy vegetables
- Wholemeal breads and cereals.
Treatment Of Iron Deficiency
It is important to seek guidance from your healthcare professional if you’re concerned your baby is iron deficient. Treatment may include:
- Increasing iron rich foods in their diet
- Iron supplements, suitable for infants (only to be administered under medical supervision)
- Treating any infection that may be causing anaemia in your child.
Do not give your baby over the counter iron supplements unless advised by your doctor. High doses of iron can be toxic to babies, and an overdose can be lethal. As a precaution, keep any iron supplements tightly capped and out of reach of children.
Preventing Iron Deficiency
- Introduce iron rich foods to your baby at around 6 months of age, such as iron-fortified rice cereal and red meats
- Offer your baby foods containing vitamin C, such as broccoli or oranges, with iron rich foods as this can help with the body absorb iron
- Avoid giving your baby large volumes of cow’s milk, as it is a poor source of iron and can also stop their gut from properly absorbing iron. Small amounts can be given from 6 months as part of solid foods, such as on cereal
- Follow-on formulas from 6 months may also be useful for babies unable to have a balanced diet, however healthcare professional advice should be sought when making this decision.