Iron deficiency is a relatively common issue that we see as Pediatricians. Iron is an important mineral for child development. Iron is an important component of our red blood cells. If iron levels are low enough, our blood cells become small and cannot deliver oxygen to our body. This is called anemia. Iron is crucial for normal growth and brain development. Children who are iron deficient can appear pale, show poor growth, and may feel tired and irritable.
How can I prevent my child from being Iron deficient?
Babies born at term will have enough iron stores from their mother. From 0-6 months, babies will get enough iron from breast milk. If you choose to formula feed, make sure you choose an iron fortified formula and not a “low iron” formula.
There are many causes of iron deficiency. We need a constant supply of iron from the foods we eat in order to maintain normal levels. Some common causes of iron deficiency include:
- Excessive milk intake. Children should have no more than 500 ml per day, introduced no earlier than ~12 months of age. The iron found in cow’s milk is poorly absorbed by our bodies. In addition, children will fill up on milk and then have low intake of iron rich foods.
- Lack of intake of iron rich foods after 6 months
- Babies born prematurely (>3 weeks before the due date)
- Babies who drink formula that is not iron fortified
Which foods are good sources of iron?
There are 2 types of iron. The iron from animal sources is called heme iron. Our bodies readily absorb heme iron.
The iron from plant sources is called non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is better absorbed if we eat it with foods rich in vitamin C or with heme iron containing foods
Heme Iron Sources:
Meats: Beef, Veal, Lamb, Chicken, Turkey, Pork
Shellfish: Clams, Oysters
Non Heme Iron Sources
*Take these with foods rich in Vitamin C – Citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, red/green peppers – for better absorption*
Grains/Cereals: Iron fortified formula or infant cereal, whole grain breads, enriched bread, pasta, and rice
Legumes: Chick peas, Lima beans, Kidney beans, Lentils
Vegetables: Broccoli, Spinach
Dried fruit: Apricots, Figs