Side Effects of Iron Supplements for Infants

During the last trimester of pregnancy, mothers give their babies enough iron to sustain them for the first four months of life. Most babies get adequate amounts of this nutrient from iron-rich foods or iron-fortified formula after four months. If you are concerned about your baby's iron levels, speak with your pediatrician before supplementing your little one. Your doctor can check your baby's levels to determine if additional iron is needed. Excessive iron can cause uncomfortable and even fatal side effects in your infant.

Iron is vital for your baby's growth and development, but too much iron can be detrimental to his health. (Image: Choreograph/iStock/Getty Images)

Role of Iron

Iron, a mineral involved in transporting oxygen throughout your baby's body, is necessary for regulating cell growth and differentiation. Without sufficient iron, your baby's cells don't get enough oxygen, causing weakness and fatigue and hindering growth and development. The adequate intake of iron for infants up to 6 months of age is 0.27 milligrams. Infants 7 to 12 months need 11 milligrams of iron a day. Most babies this age meet that recommendation through iron-fortified foods.

Changes in Bowel Movements

Constipation is one of the more common side effects of iron supplementation. The KidsHealth website states that infants strain during a bowel movement because they are lying on their backs, but if your baby cries or has hard, small stool, he is constipated. Alternatively, too much iron can cause diarrhea and also darken your baby's stool. Changes in bowel movements can result in stomach discomfort and make your little one irritable and fussy.

Nausea, Vomiting and Heartburn

The University of Maryland Medical Center includes nausea, vomiting and heartburn as three side effects of iron supplementation. If your baby suffers from these symptoms, he may lose his appetite. Consult with your doctor if your baby is vomiting and refuses to eat because this can interfere with his growth and development. Severe iron overdoses can kill cells in your baby's gastrointestinal tract, which causes vomiting, bloody diarrhea and potentially even death.

Iron Supplement Recommendations

If you are breast-feeding and not feeding your baby solid foods at 4 months of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an oral iron supplement of 1 milligram per kilogram of body weight a day, but always speak with your pediatrician before supplementing. Once your baby starts solid foods, he'll probably get all the iron he needs through iron-fortified cereal, pureed beef and other iron-rich foods. If you're formula-feeding, give your baby an iron-fortified formula. Premature babies may need additional iron because they didn't have adequate time to boost their stores before entering the world, so speak with your pediatrician about supplementing your preemie.

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