Why do babies need iron?
Iron is an essential nutrient that is needed for making red blood cells and plays a significant role in brain development.
When do babies need iron?
In the first 6 months of a life, a baby receives adequate iron from breastmilk or infant formula. Around 6 months, it is necessary to start your baby on solids containing iron in order to prevent deficiency. Breast milk or infant formula does not meet your baby’s needs for iron after this age.
Foods that provide iron include:
- red meat for example beef and lamb
- chicken (especially the dark meat)
- iron-fortified cereals (infant rice cereal)
- legumes for example lentils and peas
- green leafy vegetables for example spinach and bok choy
- cooked tofu.
Foods to avoid: Cow’s milk as a replacement for breast milk or infant formula. Iron-deficiency anaemia has been linked to early introduction of cow’s milk. Therefore, it is recommended that cow’s milk not be used as the main drink until around12 months of age.
Types of iron found in foods
Heme-iron – a well absorbed form of iron, found in animal foods such as beef, chicken, liver, fish and shellfish.
Non-heme iron – the main form of iron found in plant foods like green leafy veggies, some grains, legumes, cooked tofu, dried fruits and rice cereal. This form is less well absorbed, but vitamin C eaten around the same time as non-heme iron can increase its absorption.
Foods high in vitamin C
- Kiwi fruit
Ideas of pureed vegetarian food combinations to maximize iron absorption
- Porridge (iron) with mashed strawberries (vitamin C).
- Pureed cooked lentils (iron) and tomato (vitamin C).
- Pureed cooked chickpeas (iron), spinach (iron) and capsicum (vitamin C).
Possible causes of iron deficiency
- Preterm babies
- Maternal iron deficiency during pregnancy
- Late introduction of solids
- Inadequate iron provided by the diet, most commonly from a lack of heme iron-containing foods such as meat
- Excessive cow’s milk intake
- Vegetarian diet that is not rich in non-heme iron containing foods
- Lack of vitamin C-containing foods
> Useful resources for Session One: 3 Months