Infant Articles

The Importance Of Iron

By Kate Geagan


Iron is an essential trace mineral that plays a starring role in your baby’s development from infancy through childhood. Especially important for baby’s healthy brain, cognitive and neurological development, iron is also a key component of hemoglobin, a protein which helps red blood cells deliver oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body.

Iron’s important place in the vast array of nutrients means it’s vital that your baby consumes a steady supply of adequate iron at every stage of his or her growth. And while chances are that your little one is getting all that he or she needs through a well balanced diet, iron tops the list as the world’s most common nutrient deficiency, with children and young women at the highest risk. The latest evidence suggests that between 6.6-15.2% of American toddlers currently have an iron deficiency , making it an important nutrient to take note of in your baby’s diet.

  • Heme Vs. Non-Heme Iron

    In food, iron is naturally found in two different forms: heme and non-heme:

    Heme iron is a highly bioavailable form of iron found in animal products such as meat, poultry and fish, and is typically well-absorbed by the body.

    Non-heme iron is found mainly in plant sources, such as dark leafy greens, tofu, beans and lentils. Compared to heme iron, non-heme iron is typically not as efficiently absorbed by the body.

  • Who’s At Risk for Iron Deficiency?

    Healthy, full-term infants receive enough iron from their mothers during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy to have adequate iron levels for the first 4-6 months of life. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants who are born preterm, born at a low birth rate, or whose mothers have been diagnosed with iron deficiency are at higher risk for iron deficiency, due to their rapid growing and developing bodies. In addition, children with special health care needs, children living at or below the poverty level, and children from certain ethnic groups are at elevated risk as well .

    While breastfeeding is the best choice for your baby, breast milk itself actually contains little iron (though the iron is highly available to your baby). This can put babies who are exclusively breast fed at an increased risk for iron deficiency after about 4 months of age. Talk with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your own baby’s health and iron status, as a simple blood test may be used to look for iron deficiency.

How Much Does My Infant or Toddler Need?

The RDA for infants is 27 mg/day from age 0-6 months, which can be met through breastfeeding or bottle feeding with an iron fortified formula. Infants 7-12 months need 11 milligrams of iron per day, while toddlers ages 1-3 years old need 7 mg/day3.

What Are the Best Sources of Iron for My Infant and Toddler?

For infants, both breast milk and organic infant formula with iron provide adequate iron for your baby’s needs during the first 4-6 months of age. Between the ages of 6-9 months, however, your baby’s iron stores will naturally wane, which is why an iron fortified cereal is recommended as one of baby’s first foods by the American Academy of Pediatrics (see the Earth’s Best® Suggested Infant Feeding Schedule for additional guidance on starting first foods).

As your infant begins to transition to solid foods, choose naturally iron-rich foods such as finely milled lean meats, poultry, fish and eggs when your baby is showing the appropriate signs of readiness. Many Earth’s Best® Stage 2 foods naturally contain iron rich foods. There are many plant sources of iron as well including dark leafy greens, tofu, beans and lentils however the iron in these is not as efficiently absorbed as the iron from meat products.

As your toddler transitions from jars and pouches to the family dinner table, continue to serve a variety of naturally iron-rich foods each week to help support healthy growth and development. Iron fortified toddler foods such as Earth’s Best® Sesame Street® Breakfasts can also help your child to meet their daily iron needs. Additionally, including vitamin C rich foods (such as many fruits) alongside iron rich foods at meals and snacks will increase the amount of iron absorbed from those foods.

1Pediatrics 2010; 126: 000.
2Pediatrics 2010; 126: 000.
3Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium and Zinc: a report on the Panel of Micronutrients. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.