The Effects of Too Much Iron in Infants

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Infants and iron. (Image: MIXA next/MIXA/Getty Images)

Infants are typically born with enough iron to last four to six months, but then they require it from their diet. While iron deficiency is more common in infancy, it is possible for an infant to get too much iron, particularly if receiving supplementation or if there is a known genetic issue in the family. Excess amounts can lead to toxicity and even death.

Iron Function

Iron is an essential part of many proteins in the body including hemoglobin, which is involved in oxygen transport. It is also required for regulation of cell growth and differentiation. The body’s ability to absorb iron is affected by storage levels, so when levels are high, absorption decreases; this is the body’s mechanism for preventing toxicity. Consistently high levels of iron supplementation, however, can lead to high levels. You should never give iron supplements to an infant without your doctor’s permission.

Symptoms of Excess

According to “Pediatrics in Review,” signs of toxicity include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, dark-colored stools and extreme abdominal distress. If overload continues, hemorrhaging, hypoglycemia and eventually death can occur. If your child experiences these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Genetic Disorders

Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder affecting 1 in 250 people. These individuals absorb iron too efficiently, leading to excess stores in body. Excess iron can cause damage to organs, including the liver and heart. Talk to your child’s physician if your family has a history of high iron stores.

Supplementation Guidelines

You should not give iron supplements to an infant without a physician’s supervision. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends completely breast-feeding infants for the first six months of life. Add iron-enriched foods gradually after age 6 months to supplement the breast milk. Bottle-fed babies should be given iron-fortified formulas or supplements if directed by a physician.

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