Iron: why is it so important my baby is getting enough?

Iron is a mineral essential for lots of different things, from growth and development, the immune system, and also for carrying oxygen around the body. If babies are low in iron they can become tired, prone to infections, and may even have learning difficulties.

Your baby is born with a natural supply of iron which starts to run out around 6 months of age. The good news is that iron is replenished through the introduction of solids, which is why there is so much emphasis placed on giving you baby a diet rich in iron. To put this in perspective, a 7 month old baby actually needs more iron than their father!

Here are a few tips to help:

Milk: Breast feed or use an infant formula until your baby is at least 12 months old.    Breast milk or infant formula will help supply baby with iron, but additional iron from food sources is also required from around 6 months of age.

 

Cow's milk: Cow’s milk is not suitable as a drink for babies younger than 12 months, as it doesn’t have the right balance of nutrients including being too low in iron.  A small amount of cow’s milk is ok to be added as part of your baby's solid foods such as yoghurt and cheese.

 

Introducing solids at the right time: Sometime around six months (but not before 4 months) of age, your baby will send you signs they are ready for solids.  It is important to make the move to solids not much later than six months as babies iron stores will begin to dwindle after this time.

Iron top up: Make sure baby’s first foods include iron rich foods such as Farex infant rice cereals. These are readily accepted options and can be mixed with breast milk or infant formula for a familiar taste.  Stick with it  too - an easy way to boost your little one's iron intake is to keep using iron-enriched Farex cereal varieties, including mixing them into other foods whether it be yoghurt, fruit or vegetables up until the age of 12 months.

 

Meat – the king of iron: A good rule of thumb when trying to understand how iron-rich certain meats are is to look at the colour of the meat – the redder the meat, the higher the iron content.  Chicken and fish are sources of iron, but red meats such as beef and lamb are up there with the best sources of iron.  Cooked, pureed meat can be introduced as one of your baby's first foods. For older babies, cooked minced or finely chopped soft slices of meat can be offered.

 

Vitamin C: Vitamin C helps your baby's body absorb iron from non-meat sources so it is a great idea to add more Vitamin C rich foods to your baby's diet where possible.  Capsicums, broccoli, tomatoes, mandarins, oranges and kiwifruits are all good sources of Vitamin C, so why not mix your little one's infant rice cereal with some mashed up kiwifruit for a secret Vitamin C kick!

 

There are several different factors which can contribute to iron deficiency including:

  • A diet that is too high in fibre - babies don't need lots of fibre as too much fibre 'binds' with iron and reduces the absorption.
  • Sickness like gastroenteritis, and other infections and illnesses can cause iron deficiency
  • Some premature babies may not have developed a sufficient store of iron before they were born

Speak to your child health nurse or doctor if you're concerned your baby isn't getting enough iron.