Iron Deficiency Prevention

Anemia is a condition where the number of red blood cells in the body is lower than expected for your child’s age. The most common cause of anemia in children is too little iron in the diet, because iron is needed to make red blood cells. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends screening for anemia in all children at 12 and 24 months of age. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in children, but prevention is entirely possible.

First Year of Life

Breast-fed Babies

  • Breast milk does not contain much iron. Luckily, during the last few months of pregnancy, babies develop iron stores in their bodies which will last them for 4 months. Starting at 4 months of life, however, infants should be given an iron supplement every day. The easiest way to do this is to stop the vitamin D drops you give every day, and change to one that has both iron and vitamin D. You can go back to the vitamin D drops after your baby is getting lots of iron-containing pureed foods.

Formula-fed Babies

  • Make sure the formula you give is fortified with iron and vitamin D. Despite all the marketing gimmicks, baby formula is all the same, as long as it is fortified with these two nutrients

No cow’s milk in the first 12 months

  • Other dairy sources (yogurt, cheese) and cow’s milk-based formula are safe, but giving cow’s milk bought from the store can cause blood loss in the poop and prevent iron from being digested properly.

Starting Solid

  • From the time you start solid foods, make sure to prioritize iron-rich foods.
    • Baby oat cereal is a great first food!
    • See the next section for additional examples

After 12 months

  • No more than 20 ounces of cow’s milk per day.
    • Cow’s milk is low in iron, and filling up on cow’s milk decreases your child’s appetite for other iron-rich foods.
  • Vitamin C increases iron absorption in the gut, so including citrus fruits with other iron-rich foods is a great idea.
    • Your child needs 10-12 mg of iron per day.
  • Encourage iron-rich foods in your child’s diet:
    • Many cereals have iron added to them, but check the labels to make sure.
    • Baby oat cereal
    • Soy
    • Meat
    • Eggs
    • Potatoes
    • Tomatoes
    • Beans
    • Raisins and grapes
    • Dark green, leafy veggies