Infant Iron Needs

Iron is an essential nutrient that’s used to make hemoglobin which helps blood carry oxygen and deliver it to all the other cells. Without hemoglobin, the body will stop producing healthy red blood cells and your baby’s muscles, tissues, and cells might not get the oxygen they need! Iron is also important for the immune system.

Exclusively Breastfed babies typically receive adequate iron until around 6 months old when babies needs jump from 0.27 mg per day for babies birth to 6 months to 11mg per day for babies 6-11 months old. (2)

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When starting solids, it is important to prioritize offering iron rich foods to meet needs! Consult your pediatrician if you feel your little one might need a supplement. While babies given iron-fortified formula will meet their needs completely through formula, offering these foods is still important for learning purposes! 

Food Sources

Maintaining adequate iron stores ideally requires consuming iron-rich foods! Iron can come from both animal (heme iron) sources and plant (non-heme iron).

Heme Iron:

  • Beef
  • Shrimp and Seafood
  • Poultry (chicken & turkey)
  • Fish & Sardines
  • Pork
  • Other meats
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Non-Heme Iron:

  • Eggs
  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, broccoli, kale, collards)
  • Legumes (peas, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, tofu, soybeans, tempeh, white beans, kidney beans, lima beans)
  • Root Veggies (potato, beets)
  • Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes, dates, peaches)
  • Grains (fortified breakfast cereal, oats, quinoa, whole grain products, brown or enriched rice)
  • Nut Butters (peanut, almond, cashew) *whole nuts and thick nut butters are a choking hazard under 4 years*
  • Seeds (sesame/tahini, flaxseeds, hemp hearts, chia seeds)

Although the animal sources of iron are more easily absorbed and used by the body, however, you are able to help increase the amount of iron absorbed by the body by serving iron-rich foods in combination with foods rich in vitamin C!

Learn more about feeding your infant here!

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Risk Factors for Infant Iron Deficency

  • Iron Deficiency in mother during pregnancy
  • Being born premature
  • The amount of time before cord clamping (delaying clamping)
  • Genetics and family history
  • Delaying the introduction of solids (beyond 6 motnhs) to an infant who is exclusively breastfed
Iron deficiency can hamper your child’s growth and may also cause:
  • learning and behavioral issues
  • social withdrawal
  • delayed motor skills
  • muscle weakness

Breastfeeding vs Formula

As a health educator, I firmly stand behind the statement that “Fed is Best”. I support, encourage, and strive to educate mothers on how to feed their baby but the truth is I will never say that there has to be “one way”.

No matter what you decide- I support you. I am only here to help you do what you do in the best way you can! So lets look at the facts of iron supply.

Breastmilk

Breastmilk does offer some iron (approximately 0.1mg per 8oz), but when babies needs jump from 0.27mg per day up to 11mg per day at 6 months old, breastmilk can no longer suffice. Prioritizing iron rich foods when starting to introduce solids (whether it is purees or Baby Led Weaning) and vitamin C rich foods are essential for breastfed babies to maintain and meet their iron needs.  Breastfeeding should be maintained until at least one year old however can be extended beyond that! The World Health Organization recommends continuing until 2 years of age.

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Formula

Formula is a modern miracle. Seriously. The fact that we know enough about the human body that we are able construct a product that can save infant lives is amazing. It is recommended that you use iron-fortified formula (containing from 4 to 12 mg of iron) from birth through the entire first year of life. (4) Iron fortified formulas have an adequate amount of iron added so that if an infant is comsuming enough formula daily they will be able to meet and maintain their iron needs.

However, even with fortified formula, infants should be introduced to iron rich foods and vitamin c rich foods when starting solids to help them learn these foods. After one year of age these foods will be what meet their daily needs therefore learning them early is important for making the transition off of formula.

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Should I give my baby an iron supplement?

  • Premature babies in most cases WILL need an iron supplement. Consult your child’s pediatrican.
  • Full-term babies who drink an iron-fortified infant formula will most likely NOT need an iron supplement.
  • Full-term babies who are excusively breastfed and begin eating iron rich solids at 6 months old will most likely NOT need an iron supplement.
  • Full-term babies who drink a combination of breastmilk and formula MIGHT need an iron supplement depending upon intake of each. Consult your child’s pediatrican.
  • Full-term babies who are excusively breastfed and delay introduction of solids beyond 6 months old WILL need an iron supplement in most cases.
  • Children over a year old only need an iron supplement IF they aren’t eating enough iron-rich foods AND/OR consuming more than 24oz of milk per day. Talk to your child’s doctor if you think this is the case.
  • Other health conditions can cause the need for an iron supplement. Have your child’s iron levels checked between 9-12 months old.

References

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2528681/

(2) www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/ref_elements_tbl_e.html

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11339160

(4) https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Vitamin-Iron-Supplements.aspx

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**The author of this site encourages you to consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition. No information on this site should be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. For more information please read our full disclaimer here.**

Published by snackswithjax

Sarah is the creator and mom behind "Snacks with Jax", a social media community of over 85,000 parents/caregivers, where she shares her son's meals, nutrition information, and evidence-based tips for feeding children. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist with a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition emphasizing in Wellness from Texas Woman's University and years of experience as a culinary instructor working with ages 2+. She has coached hundreds of parents & caregivers through the journey introducing solids to babies and also navigating picky eating with toddlers and older children. Her focus is on establishing a life-long healthy relationship with food for children while also empowering, encouraging, and educating their adult caregivers.

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