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Is your child getting enough iron? How to know and why it’s important
October 11, 2023
Mom and child with eggs, orange juice and leafy greens on the kitchen counter

    Why is iron important for kids?

    Iron helps move oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, supporting healthy growth and development.

    “Iron is an essential part of hemoglobin, the component in red blood cells that carries oxygen,” said pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Wolf. “If the body doesn’t get enough iron, it can’t produce sufficient hemoglobin to support proper functioning of organs and muscles. We want to make sure that infants have enough iron in their diets from the very beginning and that they continue to consume iron-rich foods throughout childhood to help them grow and thrive.”

    A lack of iron can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, a condition where the body doesn’t make enough red blood cells or makes cells that are too small to carry sufficient oxygen.

    How much iron does my child need?

    Infants, children and adolescents need different amounts of iron.

    Age                                         Daily iron intake

    7- 12 months                           11 mg
    1-3 years                                    7 mg
    4-8 years                                  10 mg
    9-13 years                                  8 mg
    Boys 13 years and older         11 mg
    Girls 13 years and older          15 mg daily (due to blood lost during their periods)

    When they’re going through a growth spurt, they may need even more iron to support the production of additional red blood cells.

    How can I help make sure there’s enough iron in my child’s diet?

    If your baby was born full term and is breastfed, they have enough iron for initial growth. Around 4-6 months of age their reserves decline, and they should be supplemented until iron-rich foods, including iron-fortified cereals or pureed, cooked, red meat, are introduced in their diet. It’s rare for formula-fed babies to need iron supplementation since most commercially available formulas in the U.S. contain iron. Infants born preterm may need iron in addition to what they get from breast milk or formula. Talk with your family’s pediatrician to determine the best type and amount of iron supplement for your baby.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that when babies switch to whole milk at 12 months of age, they drink 16-24 ounces per day. While cow’s milk has many important nutrients, it contains little iron and can make iron absorption more difficult.

    Toddlers, kids and teens can get iron from a variety of foods, including:

    • Beef
    • Liver
    • Lamb
    • Turkey and chicken (especially dark meat)
    • Eggs
    • Beans (chickpeas, kidney, lima, black, pinto, etc.)
    • Dark leafy greens (collards, kale, spinach, etc.)
    • Iron-enriched grains (bread, cereal, pasta, etc.)

    If kids and teens eat two to three iron-rich foods each day, they should reach their daily intake targets. Iron from chicken, fish and red meat is absorbed by the body better than iron from fruits and vegetables. Every parent knows that kids can be finicky when it comes to food though – the best sources of iron are the ones your child is willing to eat!

    Vitamin C helps to increase iron absorption, so encouraging citrus fruits and other foods high in vitamin C can help prevent iron deficiency too.

    What are some signs my child isn’t getting enough iron?

    Signs of iron deficiency may include:

    • Excessive fatigue
    • Persistently fast heart rate
    • Desire to eat ice, dirt or paint
    • Pale skin

    If you notice any of these symptoms, mention it to your child’s pediatrician. They may request a blood test to evaluate hemoglobin and iron levels. If the results show low iron, they’re likely to recommend iron supplements in the form of drops or pills.

    Interested in more information about your child’s health? Check out our blog!

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