Iron deficiency in toddlers

My precious daughter turned one last month, and I was pretty excited when her CBC (a lab test of the iron level in her blood) came back normal.  Whew!  I have to admit, she has only had iron supplements less than 5 times during her first year of life, but as a breastfeeding mom who will soon be switching her to cow’s milk, I know I have to be aware of the iron content of her foods.

Iron deficiency is more common in toddlers than any other age group, possibly because of the foods they eat, the amount of milk they drink, and the drop in iron stores after 6 months of age. 

Here are my tips:

1) Cows milk is a snack, NOT part of a meal.  Milk prevents your body from absorbing iron well.  Avoid drinking milk one hour before or after eating an iron-rich food.  Here’s our routine:

  • Morning: have a glass of milk, followed by oatmeal and yogurt with flax or wheatgerm, and some kind of fruit, for breakfast.
  • mid-morning snack:  either iron-fortified crackers or fruit, depending on the day.
  • Lunchtime:  iron-rich – either meat, beans, or iron-fortified grains/cereals/snacks, along with fruit and veggies.  no milk.  sometimes we’ll have cheese, but I try to save that for snacks.
  • After nap afternoon snack: cup of milk, or a fruit and yogurt smoothie
  • Dinner:  iron-rich meal served with water, no milk.  Baby gets iron fortified cereal before the meal.

2) Iron-fortified baby cereals, molasses, liver, and meatballs are all good sources of iron that are easy to chew.  Raisins with seeds are good as well, but difficult to find.

3) if you are eating a non-meat source of iron, include a fruit or juice with vitamin C to help absorption.  For example, mixing baby cereal with applesauce (often has ascorbic acid or vitamin C added), add berries to your iron-fortified pancakes or oatmeal.

Iron deficiency is a serious concern as it can stunt your child’s physical and mental development, so it is important to follow doctor’s advice on supplements when necessary.  Iron supplements should be given with fruit or a small (1-2 oz) serving of juice, or an iron-rich meal, and not with cow’s milk or a fiber supplement.  Iron supplements can cause constipation and stomachaches.  Taking it with dinner can help minimize the upset tummies, and then give the fiber supplement at breakfast to get things going during the day…

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