Iron – Is Your Baby Getting Enough?
Written by Vanessa McNamara, The Travelling Dietitian.
Once your baby turns 6 months old, their iron stores start to run low. As a result, they will need to consume higher amounts of iron in their diet. The amount in breastmilk and formula is no longer adequate, hence why introducing solids by 6 months is so important.
Iron is a critical nutrient for brain development. It is also required for the production of haemoglobin, a component of red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body.
Every baby’s requirement for iron is different, depending if they are at higher risk of iron deficiency or not. Those at risk include babies:
- Born prematurely or at a low birth weight
- With mothers who have low iron stores
- Who start solids later than 6 months
- Who drink cow’s milk before the age of 12 months
Cow’s milk is low in iron and its iron is poorly absorbed. It can also interfere with iron absorption from other foods if too much of it is consumed. It is therefore recommended that breastmilk and infant formula (containing iron) is the primary milk provided before the age of one.
Provide foods containing iron
When your infant is 6 months old, offer iron-containing foods on a daily basis. The quantities will be small to begin with but will increase as their appetite for solid food increases and their eating skills improve.
These foods should be provided in a form that your baby is developmentally able to eat. Babies new to solid food will benefit from thin, smooth purees. As they get older, they will be able to handle chunkier, mashed textures and finger food. It is best to follow your baby’s lead with this as they all develop at their own pace. Speak to your doctor or dietitian if you are concerned that they are not progressing with textures.
Best iron-containing foods:
Beef, lamb, pork, chicken
Lentils and beans
Dark green leafy vegetables
Nuts and seeds
Fortified grains and cereals
To increase iron absorption:
- Combine foods containing iron with foods high in vitamin C as it helps to increase iron absorption. Eg. beef/lentils in a tomato sauce, wholegrain cereal with fruit or juice
- Combine animal-based sources of iron with plant-based sources of iron eg. red meat with green leafy vegetables
- Avoid eating calcium-rich foods at the same time as iron-rich foods. Drinking milk with meals can inhibit the absorption of iron so keep it to between meals.
Taleii’s Top Tip:
Combine cooked and pureed chicken, beef, fish or tofu with Taleii’s Sweet potato, mango and coconut for a balanced meal high in iron, zinc, vitamin C and protein.
Mix one tablespoon of silken tofu with Taleii’s Zucchini, Mint and Pea for a creamy delicious meal high in iron, protein and calcium.
Mash one tablespoon cooked/canned lentils with Taleii’s Taro, Pumpkin, Lotus for a fresh, flavoursome meal high in iron and vitamin C.