Iron Iron Iron – to make your child healthy and intelligent

Iron is an essential nutrient for making hemoglobin, a key component of red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. When our bodies don’t get enough iron, red blood cells can’t be produced adequately, and our tissues and organs will not get enough oxygen — all necessary for age-appropriate growth and development. If a baby is deficient in iron, he/she may experience cognitive and behavioral development deficits and delays.

What are the symptoms of iron deficiency in babies?

When babies don’t get enough iron, they may show these signs:

  • Slow weight gain.
  • Pale skin.
  • No appetite.
  • Irritability (cranky, fussy).

Iron isn’t just involved in the production of hemoglobin. Among other things, it also participates in the production of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin and dopamine that have broadly beneficial effects on mood and brain function. Iron is also involved in the conversion of blood sugar to energy. Metabolic energy is crucial for athletes since it allows muscles to work at their optimum during exercise or when competing.

The production of enzymes (which play a vital role in the production of new cells, amino acids, hormones and neurotransmitters) also depends on iron. This is important if you are competing professionally or following serious exercise so you can perform at your best.The immune system is dependent on iron for its normal functioning. Iron also contributes to normal cognitive function in children.

Iron is lost by the body through a variety of ways including urination, defecation, sweating, and exfoliating of old skin cells. Bleeding contributes to further loss of iron which is why women have a higher demand for iron than men. If iron stores are low, normal hemoglobin production slows down, which means the transport of oxygen is diminished, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue and tiredness.

Since our bodies can’t produce iron itself, we need to make sure we consume sufficient amounts of iron as part of our daily healthy balanced diet.


1-3 yr 9 mg/day
4-8 yr 10 mg/day
9-13 yr 8 mg/day
14-18 yr 11 mg/day
9-13 yr 8 mg/day
14-18 yr 15 mg/day

Importance of breastfeeding to prevent anemia:

  • Healthy, full-term babies have enough iron stores in their bodies to last for at least the first six months. The current research indicates that a baby’s iron stores should last between six and twelve months, depending upon the baby.
  • The iron in breastmilk is better absorbed than that from other sources. The vitamin C and high lactose levels in breastmilk aid in iron absorption.

Which babies are more at risk for iron-deficiency anemia:

  • Premature baby
  • babies whosebirth weights are less than 3000 grams
  • Babies born to mothers with poorly controlled diabetes.
  • Babies who are fed cow’s milk(instead of breastmilk or iron-fortified formula) during the first year of life.

What are some good iron sources?

Foods that are high in iron include:

  • Breastmilk
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Meat & poultry (beef, beef & chicken liver, turkey, chicken)
  • Mushrooms
  • Sea vegetables (arame, dulse), algaes (spirulina), kelp
  • Greens (spinach, chard, dandelion, beet, nettle, parsley, watercress)
  • Grains (millet, brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, breads with these grains)
  • Blackstrap molasses (try adding a little to cereal or rice)
  • Dried beans (lima, lentils, kidney)
  • Chili con carne with beans
  • Tofu
  • Egg yolks
  • Grains (cooked cracked wheat, cornmeal, grits, farina, bran, breads with these grains)
  • Tomato
  • Dried fruit (figs, apricots, prunes, raisins)
  • Meat (pork)
  • Shellfish (clams, oysters, shrimp)
  • Tuna, sardines

What if my baby’s iron levels have been checked and are TOO LOW?

Normal iron levels
Age Hemoglobin concentration (grams per deciliter)
Newborn 13.5-24
One week 10-20
1-2 months 10-18
2-6 months 9.5-14
6-12 months 10.5-14 (12 average)
1-2 years 11.0-13
2-5 years 11.1-13

If iron level is on lower side of normal range, we have to concentrate on iron rich foods. We can also improve iron absorption.
Mix and match with other nutrients. Vitamin C helps iron absorption, so increase the amount of iron that your toddler’s body gets from plant sources by pairing iron-rich foods with foods chock-full of vitamin C. Good match-ups include:

  • Iron-fortified cereal and orange juice
  • Iron-fortified oatmeal with strawberries or kiwi
  • Hummus with sliced tomatoes and red peppers
  • Iron-enriched pasta with broccoli

Consider a supplement – 

If your child doesn’t eat much meat or other iron-rich foods, you may need to offer an iron supplement. But talk with your pediatrician first so you don’t accidentally end up overcompensating. Another way to get some iron onto your child’s plate: Cook food in cast-iron pots and pans — some of the iron in the cookware will end up in your food.

Dr. Maulik 
Paediatric & Neonatology
Motherhood Chaitanya Hospital Chandigarh

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