According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 percent of children ages 1 to 2 years have iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is a lack of healthy red blood cells in the blood due to low iron. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the cells in your body. Without oxygen, the cells can’t function properly. For infants, this can delay their normal development for movement and activities such as rolling over, crawling and walking. For infants and children, anemia can slow brain development.
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Those at Risk
Infants and young children are at higher risk for iron deficiency anemia due to rapid growth during this time. Among Infants and children, those at highest risk include premature infants, children under 1 year who are given cow’s milk, breastfed babies after age 6 months who aren’t given iron fortified cereal or other iron-rich foods, formula-fed babies not given iron fortified formula, children ages 1 to 5 who drink more than 24 oz. of cow’s milk, goat’s milk or soy milk per day.
The two main causes of iron deficiency anemia include an increased need for iron and decreased intake of iron or iron absorption. Infants and young children grow at a tremendous rate during the first several years of life so their iron needs are higher than older children. Blood loss or other chronic illnesses may also affect a child’s iron status. If an infant or child doesn’t get enough iron in her diet she may become anemic.
Infant Foods Containing Iron
A term infant is born with approximately 4 to 6 months of iron stores. Breastmilk contains plenty of iron for your baby during this time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving your baby iron fortified cereal when you begin solid foods. Other iron containing foods include pureed meats and soft, cooked beans. You can give these to your baby starting at 9 or 10 months. If you give your baby formula, give her iron-fortified formula. Do not give your baby cow’s milk before 12 months of age.
Children’s Foods Containing Iron
The best sources of iron for children over age one include red meats, beans, iron-fortified cereals, and dark, green leafy vegetables such as spinach. Chicken, raisins, tuna and other fish, and iron-fortified breads are also good sources. The iron from animal sources, such as beef and chicken, are more easily absorbed than the iron from plant sources. Milk does not contain iron. Some children drink too much milk, limiting their food intake, thus not get adequate amounts of iron in their diet. Limit your child to less than 24 oz. of milk a day.
The Role of Vitamin C
Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron from foods up to three times. Including foods such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, strawberries and other foods rich in vitamin C along with iron-rich foods will help your child increase the amount of iron he is getting at each meal.