Why Your Baby Needs Iron

Iron is a vital mineral to life, for people of all ages. Babies, however, have a special need for iron as their bodies are growing and developing at a rapid pace. Many babies are not getting enough of this essential nutrient, and serious health problems can result.

What Iron Does

Iron helps the body to create hemoglobin, which is what keeps red blood cells healthy, and makes them red. It carries oxygen throughout the body and provides it to muscles and organs, all of which require oxygen to function properly. As babies are growing quickly, their bodies require iron to create new red blood cells.

Dangers of Iron Deficiency

Babies get iron from their mother in the womb, but after birth it must be included in baby food diet for healthy weight gain and development. Babies who do not get enough iron can develop iron-deficiency anemia, a condition which can cause numerous problems including poor weight gain, fatigue, dizziness, rapid heart rate and decreased appetite.

Iron deficiency symptoms can be slow to appear, as the body’s stores of iron are depleted over time. If they are not replaced, the symptoms will start to manifest. Most cases of anemia are caught prior to symptoms developing thanks to routine testing for hemoglobin levels in babies between 9-12 months of age. Rare serious cases of iron-deficiency anemia do occur, however, resulting in hospitalization.

What Leads to Iron Deficiency

In most cases, a lack of enough iron in the diet is the reason for a baby or toddler to develop anemia. There are other potential causes as well, however.

When your baby makes the switch to cow’s milk at around a year old, the risk of anemia from low iron increases due to two factors. First, your baby is no longer receiving the extra iron found in breast milk or iron-fortified formula. Second, too much milk can actually block iron absorption. This is a big reason why babies under a year old are not advised to drink cow’s milk. Too much milk can damage the lining of the stomach and result in internal bleeding that can further deplete iron supplies. To prevent this cause of iron deficiency, keep your baby’s milk intake to no more than 24 ounces a day. If your baby is taking an iron supplement or multivitamin with iron, serve it separately from milk.

Periods of rapid growth can also deplete iron stores, as the body is using them up at a quicker pace than normal. If you see signs of a growth spurt in your baby, try to add extra iron either in the form of supplements or food in order to replace the stores that are being used up.

If your baby was premature or had a low birth weight, the risk of iron deficiency anemia is increased. Because larger babies who spent longer periods in the womb were able to absorb and store more iron, their supply will last longer and not need to be replenished quite so quickly. A premature or low birth weight baby will need extra help to build up iron stores and avoid anemia.

If you suspect iron deficiency anemia in your baby, talk to your baby’s doctor. Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, your pediatrician will be able to guide you in the right steps to take in order to bring iron levels back up.

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