Iron is believed to be the single most important nutrient for babies and toddlers. It’s essential for a number of functions, particularly at this stage of development including brain growth.
Inadequate iron in babies and toddlers can have a significant impact on various aspects of their health, including slower growth and poorer immunity (as iron also supports the immune system).
In addition, iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in babies and toddlers.
Most babies are born with enough stored iron in their bodies to last them to about 6 months. But it depends, however, on a number of factors such as the mom’s iron deficiency or poor iron stores during pregnancy, and if the baby was born prematurely. This is important as breast milk contains very little iron and although infant formula has added iron, your baby’s body does not easily absorb it.
Therefore milk alone does not offer sufficient levels of iron when solids are started and iron-rich foods should be introduced early to babies, from around 6 months of age. Also iron-rich foods should be offered every day from this age.
Iron found in foods comes in two forms: heme and non-heme iron.
Heme iron is commonly found in animal products and is more easily absorbed by the body.
Sources of heme iron include:
Red meats and organ meats such as kidneys are particularly good sources.
Non-heme iron can be found in plants and iron-fortified products, including:
As iron from animal sources is more readily absorbed than plant-based sources; its best to
pair plant-based sources with foods high in vitamin C to help your little one absorb more iron.
Lastly, a number of other factors can reduce iron absorption for toddlers such as drinking too much cow’s milk or drinking tea with mealtimes. Therefore it is best to offer a variety of iron-rich foods.