Keeping Tabs on Baby’s Iron

Babies are at a very high risk for iron deficiency anemia, a condition that results from a lack of iron in baby’s system. Most anemia is caused by a diet that is low in iron. While the best thing you can do to prevent iron deficiency anemia in your baby is to make sure there is enough in baby foods, being vigilant about anemia is a good idea too. Because iron-deficiency anemia can be hard to distinguish from other problems, you will probably need your pediatrician’s help to make sure your baby is getting enough iron.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia

The most common symptoms of low iron are fatigue, dizziness, lack of appetite, paleness, and changes in heart rate. Most of these you are unlikely to notice in a baby, mainly because your baby can’t tell you what she is feeling, or because they require medical instruments and training to detect.

In the long term, iron deficiency can lead to behavior and learning difficulties, the severity of which depends on how long your child suffered from anemia and how serious the deficiency was. These long term effects, however, should be avoidable with vigilance and early detection of the problem.

Because the symptoms can be hard to notice and easy to confuse with other problems, your doctor is the best person to determine whether or not your baby is getting enough iron.

How Your Baby’s Doctor Diagnoses Low Iron

Most babies will have a simple blood test done between 9-12 months of age to check for hemoglobin levels in the blood. Because iron helps the body to create hemoglobin, low levels are a sign of iron deficiency. A CBC (complete blood count) test will also show the number and size of your baby’s red blood cells. If the count is low and the red blood cells are small and less pigmented, odds are good your baby isn’t getting enough iron.

There are other tests your baby’s doctor may perform, including checking iron levels in the blood directly, and checking your baby’s stool for signs of blood. In most cases however, a diagnosis won’t require extensive testing. The results of the blood tests should be enough for your doctor to recommend a therapy if necessary. This may involve both diet changes and iron supplements.

Preventing Anemia

The best way to prevent anemia is to make certain your baby’s diet contains enough iron. During the first year of life most babies will get the required amount of iron from breast milk or iron-fortified formula. After the first year, however, the risk may increase as babies no longer breast or bottle feed and switch to cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is known to block iron absorption in large quantities, so keep your baby’s consumption in check, not more than 24 ounces a day. Be sure to feed a diet full of iron rich foods such as meat and poultry, eggs, leafy green vegetables and legumes.

You can also give your baby a daily multivitamin supplement that includes iron. Serve it separately from milk to be sure it is absorbed fully. As long as you follow these preventative measures, your baby is unlikely to develop an iron deficiency. If you need more concrete assurance, however, you can request that your baby’s doctor perform the blood tests to check for iron deficiency anemia.

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