Does my baby need iron supplements?

Anna, our Registered Nutritional Therapist works with babies and children’s health in Bristol

You may have heard that babies need to boost their iron levels, but most babies don’t need to take supplements.

Iron supplements shouldn’t be taken by anyone unless levels have been tested and a medical professional has recommended it. This is because it cannot be excreted from the body, and can be toxic at high levels.

Can you have too much iron?

Taking supplements can result in high levels of iron. Infectious bacteria also love to use it to grow inside us. Normally iron travels round the body accompanied by a transport protein, and if we have too much iron in our body then there isn’t enough of the transporter, then the bacteria like to feed on it, which can potentially lead to inflammation or infections.

Menstruating women excrete iron each month in their period so often have lower levels.

How do babies get iron?

Babies are born with iron stores which have crossed over from the placenta. Premature babies will have had less time for this transfer through the blood and so may have lower stores, it’s occasionally recommended premature babies need to take supplements.

After birth in the initial 6 months our ferritin stores decrease, but babies get iron from their milk. There is a small amount in breastmilk, very well absorbed, and a larger amount in formula which is not so well absorbed. Higher levels in formula may account for these babies being more constipated.

What iron rich foods can my baby eat?

Babies need more iron from around 6 months and there is a range of healthy foods you can include in their diet. The best source is organic liver, although most people don’t relish the idea of eating it!

There are two different types:

  • Heme-iron, found in meats, is more easily absorbed by the body.
  • Non-heme iron comes from plant sources like legumes, vegetables, and cereals. The absorption can be increased by eating vitamin C with these foods. Vitamin C is high in tomatoes, red pepper, cauliflower or fruits like oranges, strawberries or kiwi.

How to give iron rich foods to babies

Babies between 6-12 months should be able to get enough in their diet from breastmilk / formula and eating a range of foods:

  • Meat 2-3x a week
  • Fish 2-3x week
  • Pulses (lentils or beans) 2-3x a week
  • Eggs 3-4x a week
  • Green vegetables 5-6x a week

Avoid giving too much dairy at the same time as meat, fish or pulses. High levels of calcium can interfere with iron absorption.

It’s all about a balanced diet. If you’d like help reviewing what your child eats and working with a registered Nutritional Therapist to develop a balanced diet then contact Anna for a Children’s Nutrition appointment.