Iron is an essential component of the human body, as it is required for the physiological formation of haemoglobin (which is responsible for the transport of oxygen to body tissues), as well as the oxidative processes of living tissues.
Iron deficiency is one of the most prevalent nutrient deficiencies and can hinder the development of babies under the age of two. Research suggests that the damaging effects of iron deficiency at this age may not be reversible, even if iron supplements are provided later.
In this article you can find:
- What is iron?
- Why do babies require iron?
- How much iron should I give my baby, and is it safe?
What is iron?
Iron is an essential mineral we need for growth and development. Iron’s main role in the body is to produce hemoglobin, a protein molecule in red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues, as well as myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles.
Iron can be categorized into two groups, haem iron, and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in animal products, such as beef, liver, pork, chicken, and fish. Depending on an individual’s iron stores, approximately 15-35% of haem iron is absorbed by the body. Non-haem iron is predominantly found in plant foods, including beans, broccoli, spinach, nuts, and lentils. However, only 5-15% of non-haem iron can be absorbed. Consuming foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as berries, peppers, kiwis, broccoli, kale, with non-haem iron can help boost absorption.
A lack of iron from the diet can result in iron deficiency anemia, a condition where blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells, due to a lack or iron and a lack of hemoglobin. Iron deficiency anemia can cause serious health problems, as having too little oxygen in the body can damage your organs and can cause the heart to work harder to make up for the lack or red blood cells, which can also cause damage to the heart.
Why do babies require iron?
Iron is essential for babies for their rapidly growing body and mind. Moreover, since iron helps transport around the body, a lack in it can cause your baby to feel tired or have trouble with movement.
The number of iron-deficient children rises between the ages of one and two, from 23% to 50%. Iron deficiency anaemia can cause developmental and learning problems as they get older, such as making it harder for them to concentrate and cause them to feel tired and weak.
Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency in babies can include:
- Slow weight gain
- Pale skin
- No appetite
Should I give my baby an iron supplement, and is it safe?
Full-term babies who are breastfed or who receive an iron-fortified formula from birth generally do not need an iron supplement. Pre-term babies or babies of a low birth weight need an iron supplement. The dosage of iron supplementation, and for how long the baby should receive supplementation, is dependent on the baby’s birth weight and their diet.
Iron supplementation is safe for babies. However, too much iron is harmful. Iron from foods, on the other hand, does not pose this risk. Taking too much iron from supplements might be dangerous for newborns and toddlers and so it is important to discuss iron supplementation with your doctor before giving iron supplements to your baby.
Sona BabyFer is a food supplement that contains 30mg of elemental iron in each ml, which helps to prevent iron deficiencies in children from 6 months of age. Babies aged 6 months - 3 years should receive 0.5ml daily or as directed by a doctor. May be mixed with water or fruit/vegetable juice if desired.
- default - Stanford Children's Health. (2021). Retrieved 6 July 2021, from https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=babies-and-toddlers-need-iron-to-thrive-1-4100.
- Georgieff, M., Krebs, N., & Cusick, S. (2019). The Benefits and Risks of Iron Supplementation in Pregnancy and Childhood. Annual Review Of Nutrition, 39(1), 121-146. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-082018-124213.
- Iron needs of babies and children. (2007). Paediatrics & Child Health, 12(4), 333-334. doi: 10.1093/pch/12.4.333.
- Sundararajan, S., & Rabe, H. (2020). Prevention of iron deficiency anemia in infants and toddlers. Pediatric Research, 89(1), 63-73. doi: 10.1038/s41390-020-0907-5.
- Young, I., Parker, H., Rangan, A., Prvan, T., Cook, R., & Donges, C. et al. (2018). Association between Haem and Non-Haem Iron Intake and Serum Ferritin in Healthy Young Women. Nutrients, 10(1), 81. doi: 10.3390/nu10010081.