Thursday, April 18, 2013

Is your child getting enough iron?

  Please see updated post February 2017


If nursing is working well for you, breast milk is of course the perfect food and the iron in it is very well absorbed.
If your baby is on formula it is important that you use one that is iron fortified.

Babies are actually born with maternal iron stores that start to diminish sometime between 4-7 months.

Once the baby is six months or so, I would suggest starting solids and making sure that the baby is getting adequate iron.

Infants from 4-12 months require 11 mg/ day

Toddlers need 7-10 mg

When your child becomes a teenager the iron needs go up along with the rapid growth that is taking place.

Iron is essential for energy, growth and brain activity. Did you know that there is a strong connection between insomnia and anemia? 

If your child is having trouble sleeping, one of the first things I would look at is the diet!
Anemic kids can also have head aches, restless leg syndrome, low energy, and trouble focusing. They may have cold hands and feet and look pale. Children who have low iron levels also tend to put non food items in their mouths more than other kids. Older kids might love chewing on ice.

If you have concerns about anemia at any age, give us a call and we can see if it makes sense to order a CBC.

In our office, most of the doctors will give you a lab slip to get your iron level checked around the 1 year exam. ( I suggest getting a lead level done at the same time)

There are two components in the CBC ( complete blood count) that give us most of our information about your child's iron level
The Hemoglobin is part of the red blood cell that carries oxygen. Your body needs iron in order to have a normal hemoglobin level

The normal range for a young child is 11-16

The Hematocrit is a measure of what percentage of the blood is the Red blood cells
The normal range for a child 6-month-2 years is 33-40%

These ranges can vary from lab to lab and I have seen lots of goofy lab results over the years that have terrified parents needlessly. If we ever get an extreme result of any sort the first action should be to repeat it..


Iron rich foods can be divided into two groups
Heme versus non heme

Heme Iron is much more easily absorbed. Animal sources like meat, poultry,eggs and fish contain Heme Iron.
The dark meat chicken and turkey are higher in iron than the white meat.
The egg yolk is a better source than the egg white.

Non Heme iron can be found in dried fruits, beans, tofu, enriched cereal and dark green leafy veggies.

Cooking in cast iron pans is actually a great way to get some extra iron into the diet.


Iron is a fairly tricky mineral when it comes to absorption. Some foods may actually be high in iron but are also high is something called phytic acid which block absorption.

Iron loves Vitamin C but doesn't absorb well with milk.
Because of this, kids who drink more than 24 ounces of milk once they have hit the one year mark have a higher incidence of anemia.
For you anemic adults out there I hate to pass along that coffee and tea also are a problem with it comes to helping the iron do it's job.


Hopefully you can offer enough food choices that you can get adequate iron from your diet.
If you have a very fussy eater and the lab shows that the iron level is low, you may need a supplement.

Unfortunately, Iron supplements can cause constipation and the drops can cause some tooth discoloration ( so brush those teeth)

Some of the supplements that come in a yummy chewable or gummy form are easy to take, but MUST be kept in a child proof area. Too much iron ( if you little one gets a hold of them) can be very toxic.

One of my favorite brands is Floradix for kids. Read the label, but for most toddlers the dose is 1 teaspoon/ day.


Some common iron rich foods

Chicken liver 3 oz                                      11.0mg
Lentils 1 cup cooked                                   2 ½ mg
Ground beef 3 oz                                        5 ½ mg
Tofu ¼ cup                                                 3 ½ mg
Beans ½ cup cooked                                  2 mg
Spinach ½ cup cooked                                2 ½ mg
Potato with skin, white, baked ½ medium     2 ½ mg
Prune juice ½ cup                                        1 ½ mg
Broccoli ½ cup                                             ½ mg
Enriched baby cereal ¾ cup                           4-18 mg
Tortilla 1 average                                           1 mg
Molasses 1 Tablespoon                                  0.9 mg
Raisins     ½ cup                                             1.6 mg

Other things good options are nuts, and seaweed snacks. Become a good label reader!

When your little one eats their iron rich foods give them positive reinforcement, feel their muscles and tell them that all that healthy food is helping them grow big and strong.

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