The Importance Of Iron
2 minutes read
Kate Geagan, M.S., R.D.N.
Dietitian and sustainable nutrition pioneer
Why is Iron So Important for my Baby and Toddler?
Iron is an essential mineral that’s needed to support your baby’s healthy physical, neurological, and IQ development. It also plays an starring role in producing hemoglobin, a type of red blood cell that carries energizing oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. Iron is found naturally in some foods, added to others (such as iron fortified infant cereal) and also available as a supplement. Our bodies rely on getting iron through the diet as we cannot make it ourselves. We also need extra iron in pregnancy to help our baby produce a healthy blood supply.
Who is At Risk for Iron Deficiency?
While iron deficiency is relatively uncommon in the U.S, ther are a few groups who
are at risk, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics: infants who are born
preterm, born at a low birth weight, or whose mothers have been diagnosed with
diabetes or iron deficiency for instance, are at a higher risk of iron deficiency. Little
ones with special health care needs, who live in nutritionally vulnerable living
situations, or who are of certain ethnicities are at elevated risk as well. For tots older
than age one (when cow’s milk can be safely introduced), infants and toddlers who
consume high amounts of cow’s milk can in some cases run the risk for iron
deficiency, as they may be consuming less iron-rich food. Talk with your pediatrician
if you have any concerns about your little one’s iron status-iron should never be given
without first chatting with your healthcare provider and making sure it’s the right
Iron is an essential mineral that’s needed to support your baby’s healthy physical, neurological, and IQ development. It also plays an starring role in producing hemoglobin, a type of red blood cell that carries energizing oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body.
How Much Iron Does My Infant or Toddler Need?
Your little one’s exact iron needs will vary according to their age, whether they are breast or bottle feeding, and the age at which you begin to include complementary foods. Here are the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for Iron:
- Birth to 6 months 0.27 mg* 7-12 months 11 mg
- 1-3 years 7 mg
- 4-8 years 10 mg
*For birth to 6 months, the Food and Nutrition board established an Adequate Intake (AI) of iron instead of an RDA.
Does My Baby Need an Iron Supplement?
Healthy full term babies are born with adequate iron stores that typically last between 4-6 months. At 4 months, American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants who are partially or completely breastfeeding should be supplemented with 1 mg/kg per day of oral iron until appropriate iron-containing complementary foods are introduced in their diet. An iron fortified infant formula provides adequate iron for healthy, full term babies, and no additional iron supplementation is needed.
Start Offering Iron-Rich Foods from the Start
Between 6-9 months, your baby’s iron stores naturally begin to wane and their pace of growth starts to increase. For this reason, start offering iron-rich foods from the start such as seafood, beans, dark veggies and tofu. Fortified options such as iron fortified cereal are also recommended as early weaning foods by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC.
It’s also helpful to know that there are 2 types of iron found in food: heme and non heme iron. Heme iron is a highly bioavailable form of iron that is well absorbed by the body, and is found in meat, seafood and poultry.
Non-heme iron is found in plant sources, such as nuts, dark green vegetables, tofu, beans and fortified grains such as breads and cereals. Compared to heme iron, non - heme iron is typically not as efficiently absorbed by the body. A diet rich in vitamin C (found in fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, tomatoes, mango, bell peppers and broccoli) will help boost absorption of both heme and non-heme iron.
Do Iron Need Change in Plant-Based or Vegetarian Diets?
To account for this difference in absorption availability, the RDA for iron for vegetarians is 1.8x higher than for people who include animal foods such as meat, fish and poultry. If you and your family are limiting eating foods rich in heme iron,make sure to get plenty of non-heme iron and vitamin C, and consider incorporating iron fortified foods.
This is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical advice. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always discuss any health and feeding concerns directly with your pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read above.