Parents of toddlers are frequently putting their irons into the fire and asking me questions about how to prevent their child from getting iron deficiency anemia. Well being the iron man that I am (not), let me provide some information on this topic.
Iron is needed to build up your red blood cells, which bring oxygen into your body. Without enough red cells, your body does not get enough oxygen and begins to feel weak and tired. Recent studies have shown that even a mild decrease in iron stores may not just make your child feel run down, but can affect your child’s brain growth and impact their ability to pay attention, stay alert, and learn.
The most common reason for iron deficiency is not eating enough iron-containing foods, or needing an extra supply at times of growth (which is why this problem is most commonly seen in infants and teens, especially teen girls). Recent studies suggest that as many as 12-15% of infants and toddlers may be iron deficient.
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics revised their dietary iron policy, recommending varying the amounts of iron based on a child’s age. Your child’s doctor can tell you how much iron they should be getting and you can then check food labels to insure they get an adequate daily supply.
Iron is usually found in foods that our children like to eat. For infants, it may be in iron-fortified cereals. In older children, iron can be found in meat, fish, poultry, green leafy vegetables as well as peas and beans. We also know that when you eat fruits or other foods rich in vitamin C, it can increase the amount of iron being absorbed from the other foods we eat. By the way, broccoli makes a great food because it is rich in both iron and vitamin C. In rare cases, if the diet is not rich in iron, then iron drops or medication may be needed and prescribed by your pediatrician.
Hopefully tips like this will iron out any questions you might have when it comes to making sure your child gets enough iron.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.