Iron Supplement For Babies – Is It Really Necessary?

The body needs iron to create hemoglobin, which is a protein found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen , taking it from the lungs to tissues throughout the body.

Without hemoglobin, the body will stop producing healthy red blood cells. Without enough iron, the baby’s muscles, tissues and cells will not receive the oxygen they need.

Term babies

Healthy full-term babies receive enough iron from their mothers in the third trimester of pregnancy , and this reserve lasts for the first six months of life. However, breast milk contains little iron, so the iron supplement for babies is usually made at 6 months of age in the case of exclusively breastfed babies and, at 4 months, if it is based on artificial milk.

Indication of Iron Supplement

The baby iron supplement prevents the physiological anemia that can occur after 6 months, when solid foods are incorporated into the diet and the iron reserve decreases. However, exclusively breastfed babies are less likely to develop iron deficiency anemia.

Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency can, in addition to hindering your baby’s growth, also cause:

  • Tachycardia
  • Lack of air
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Mucous mucosa of the eyelids and discolored gums
  • Pallor
  • Growth disorders
  • Learning and behavioral problems
  • Retraimento social
  • Delayed motor skills
  • Muscle weakness

Iron is also important for the immune system, so skipping iron for babies can lead to more infections, more colds and more flu attacks.

Which Babies Are Most Susceptible to Anemia?

Anemia is a fragile and weakened immune system. Some people are born more likely to suffer from the problem throughout their lives, they are:

  • Babies born prematurely – since babies receive most of the mother’s iron stores during the last trimester of pregnancy.
  • Babies born underweight – tend to have reduced iron stores at birth and appear to need additional iron earlier.
  • Babies born to mothers with anemia or diabetes – Babies born to mothers who were anemic during pregnancy may have the lowest iron stores, however, medical studies have shown that this is not true. Babies born to mothers who are anemic during pregnancy are no more likely to be iron deficient than those born to mothers who did not have anemia during pregnancy.
  • Babies who started feeding before 6 months – research found that babies who were exclusively breastfed for 6 months (without adding any other food during that time) had significantly higher levels of hemoglobin in one year than breastfed babies , but who received solid foods before six months.
  • Babies who consume cow’s milk and dairy products during the first year of life – the calcium contained in cow’s milk and its derivatives inhibit the absorption of iron.

Talking to the Pediatrician

It is important to highlight that, although pediatricians follow the protocol of inserting iron supplement for babies, when it is six months old, it is necessary to find out if it is really necessary to do this supplementation .

To find out if iron supplement for babies is needed, the pediatrician should perform a physical exam to check for any signs of deficiency. You can also order a blood test to check your hemoglobin levels in your red blood cells.

But, the doctor does not always pay enough attention to these concerns, prescribing supplementation because it is customary . Which makes iron supplementation often dangerous for children with normal levels of iron in the body.

The deposit of iron in organic tissues, due to its excess, mainly in the liver, pancreas, and heart, can progressively impair its functions.

How is iron supplementation made for babies?

After the tests that diagnose iron deficiency are done, the pediatrician can recommend the iron supplement for babies in liquid form, which is done by counting the dosage in drops .

How Much Iron Does My Child Need?

During the first two years of life, children experience very rapid growth and they consume their iron stores. The recommended daily requirements for iron vary according to age:

  • From 0 to 6 months: 0.27 milligrams per day
  • From 7 to 12 months: 11 milligrams per day
  • 1 to 3 years: 7 milligrams per day
  • 4 to 8 years: 10 milligrams per day
  • 9 to 13 years: 8 milligrams per day

How to Increase Baby Iron Absorption?

Using ascorbic acid (vitamin C) with iron will allow greater absorption of iron. For this, the pediatrician will prescribe vitamin C in drops that can be easily replaced by an orange juice or other fruit that has high levels of ascorbic acid.

The iron present in food of animal origin (egg yolk, meat) does not need anything to be absorbed, however it is not advisable to offer more than 20g of meat to the baby per day and therefore it is not possible to offer a large amount of Iron animal.

What Other Sources of Iron?

Babies and children must obtain iron and other vitamins through a balanced and healthy diet . They probably won’t need a supplement if they eat enough iron-rich foods. Examples of foods with a high iron content:

  • Red meats, including beef, and liver
  • Turkey and chicken
  • Fish
  • Fortified cereals, including oats
  • Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, watercress, broccoli and spinach
  • Beans
  • Prunes
  • Eggs

Iron Amount of Some Foods:

  • Cooked lentils: 2.44 mg Fe per 100g of food;
  • Sauce: 3.1 mg of Fe per 100g of food;
  • Cooked egg yolk: 4.85 mg of Fe per 100g of food;
  • Sweet potatoes: 1.38 mg Fe per 100g of food;
  • Leek 0.7 mg Fe per 100g of food;
  • Lean calf: 2.4 mg Fe per 100g of food
  • Chicken: 2 mg of Fe per 100g of food;
  • Lean lamb: 2.2 mg Fe per 100g of food
  • Red bean broth: 7.1 mg Fe per 100g of food;
  • Papaya: 0.8 mg Fe per 100g of food;
  • Yellow peach: 2.13 mg Fe per 100g of food;
  • Watercress: 2.6 mg Fe per 100g of food.

Side Effects of Iron Supplement

Iron supplements can cause changes in the stomach, dark stools and constipation . They are best absorbed if taken on an empty stomach before a meal. Eventually, the iron supplement for babies can cause stomach upset, so administering after a meal can help.

The excessive intake of iron can lead to serious health problems , so never take iron supplements for the baby without first consulting a doctor.
According to the National Institutes of Health, accidental ingestion of iron supplements has caused nearly a third of accidental poisoning deaths in children in the United States in recent years.

Signs of Iron Overdose

  • Severe vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessively pale or bluish skin and nails
  • Weakness

An iron overdose is a medical emergency . Call the Poison Control Center immediately if you think your child has overdosed on iron.

What Precautions Should I Follow?

When giving iron supplements to babies or children, follow these precautions to make sure your child is safe:

  • Follow all the pediatrician’s instructions and, if you are unsure of something, it is important to talk to the doctor again.
  • Make sure that all supplements are out of the reach of children so that they do not confuse them with sweets. Place the supplements on the highest shelf, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Make sure the supplement is labeled in a container with a child-resistant lid.
  • Avoid giving your child iron with milk or caffeinated drinks (such as cola soft drinks), as this will prevent the iron from being absorbed.
  • Ask your child to take the supplements for as long as the doctor recommends. It may take more than six months to regain normal iron levels.

Author’s note:

When my first child was six months old, the pediatrician prescribed the iron supplement, along with vitamin C. For the next six months, I administered the supplement religiously every day at bath time.

For me it was easier, because the brown droplets when they fell on his clothes stained and I had nothing to do to remove them. So the most comfortable solution was to find him in the bathtub.

After 6 months of medication, I noticed that my son had pale skin and some purple spots on his skin. At the doctor’s office, the doctor ordered a complete blood count, in which an anemia was discovered.

Again the supplement was prescribed, along with a diet with overdose of beets, beans and red meats. Another 6 months we repeated the blood count and the anemia was still there.

Already distressed, I requested a referral to the hematologist, who asked for specific tests for ferritin and hemoglobin electrophoresis who detected that his anemia was not iron deficiency, but an inherited anemia called Thalassemia .

After the diagnosis, the concern: the disease itself would already bring an accumulation of iron in your body, and for a year the iron supplement was administered in gigantic doses which could generate a disease called Acquired Hemochromatosis .

However, with luck, there were no complications, but the hematologist was categorical in saying that parents should exercise caution in administering iron supplementation to their children.

The correct thing is to ask the pediatrician for exams that really detect this need . My son still has anemia, and will have it for the rest of his life. But he is a normal child like everyone else. The iron supplement for babies is necessary and very important if used correctly and when really needed.

See also: Infantile Anemia – How to Fight It?

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My name is Dr. Alexis Hart I am 38 years old, I am the mother of 3 beautiful children! Different ages, different phases 16 years, 12 years and 7 years. In love with motherhood since always, I found it difficult to make my dreams come true, and also some more after I was already a mother.

Since I imagined myself as a mother, in my thoughts everything seemed to be much easier and simpler than it really was, I expected to get pregnant as soon as I wished, but it wasn’t that simple. The first pregnancy was smooth, but my daughter’s birth was very troubled. Joana was born in 2002 with a weight of 2930kg and 45cm, from a very peaceful cesarean delivery but she had already been born with congenital pneumonia due to a broken bag not treated with antibiotics even before delivery.

Dr. Alexis Hart

My name is Dr. Alexis Hart I am 38 years old, I am the mother of 3 beautiful children! Different ages, different phases 16 years, 12 years and 7 years. In love with motherhood since always, I found it difficult to make my dreams come true, and also some more after I was already a mother. Since I imagined myself as a mother, in my thoughts everything seemed to be much easier and simpler than it really was, I expected to get pregnant as soon as I wished, but it wasn’t that simple. The first pregnancy was smooth, but my daughter’s birth was very troubled. Joana was born in 2002 with a weight of 2930kg and 45cm, from a very peaceful cesarean delivery but she had already been born with congenital pneumonia due to a broken bag not treated with antibiotics even before delivery.

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