Anemia is a common blood disorder in infants, affecting normal growth and development. The most common type in babies under two years of age is iron-deficiency anemia. With iron-deficiency anemia, the infant either does not get enough iron or cannot absorb iron. Lack of iron lowers the number of healthy red blood cells. These contain hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to organs and tissues. A growing baby needs this oxygen for organs to develop properly. Signs of infant anemia can be hard to see until the case is more severe, so have your baby tested at routine doctor's appointments. Call your infant’s pediatrician right away if you notice any of the below symptoms.
Paleness of Skin, Lips and Nail Beds
Look for paleness in your baby’s skin, lips or nail beds. Paleness tells you that not enough red blood cells and oxygen are circulating in your baby's blood. Some babies can even take on a gray or blue tone in very serious cases. You may not be able to notice paleness in infants until they have significant anemia, typically hemoglobin levels greater than 7 grams per deciliter (g/dL). Schedule an appointment for your baby to see his pediatrician if you notice paleness.
Growth or Developmental Delays
Pay attention to any delays in your baby’s growth and development. These delays may be signs of anemia. Delayed growth and development can happen when the baby’s organs, like the heart or the brain, do not getting enough oxygen to grow properly. Talk with your baby's pediatrician at his next appointment if you feel that your baby is not growing at the same rate or is not reaching normal developmental milestones.
Anemic babies can develop a condition called jaundice. You will be able to see jaundice when the infant’s skin or whites of the eyes turn a yellow color. The buildup of a substance called bilirubin causes this yellowing. This happens when the baby's body breaks down too many old red blood cells, making a large amount of bilirubin. The baby's liver can filter out a normal amount of bilirubin each day. When there is a high number of red blood cells broken down and more bilirubin than the liver can handle, your infant’s skin begins to turn yellow. Call your baby’s pediatrician immediately if you notice any yellowing of the skin so that she can begin treating your baby's jaundice and anemia.
Rapid Heartbeat or New Heart Murmur
Pay attention to heart changes. When not enough oxygen is getting to your baby’s tissues and organs, her body may compensate by raising her heart rate. The heart tries to pump more blood and oxygen to tissues throughout her body. Stress on the heart can cause a murmur. Ask the pediatrician if anemia could be causing your baby’s increased heart rate or new murmur. If anemia could be the cause, have your infant’s blood tested for anemia.
Babies with anemia become tired easily and may be too weak to properly suck. If you notice your baby has a decreased appetite, begin taking notes of how often and for how long your baby nurses. Or, if your baby drinks formula, make note of the volume of formula your baby drinks at each feeding. Share this information with your pediatrician.
Excessive Sleeping or Fatigue
If your baby sleeps an excessive amount, call your pediatrician. This can be a sign of anemia. Because he does not have enough oxygen in his blood, an anemic baby may be too weak to play or remain awake for normal periods of time. Keep a journal of how long your baby sleeps in a 24-hour period. When your baby is awake, make notes on how active he stays. Show the pediatrician your notes to help diagnose and treat any possible anemia.
Does your baby seem unusually cranky when she is awake? If she has anemia, your infant may be over-tired, or hungry but too weak to eat. This can make a baby become more irritable than normal. Ask your doctor if your baby’s irritability maybe a sign of underlying anemia.