Ask The Doctor: Iron for Infants

I’m worried about whether my infant gets enough iron. Am I just being paranoid?
By Roy Steinbock, MD

Not at all. Iron plays a vital role in your baby’s health by helping make hemoglobin, a complex protein that ferries oxygen around the body. Low levels of iron can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, which can cause developmental problems. These include a delay in basic motor skills (sitting up, crawling, walking), behavioral and attention-deficit issues, a late start talking, fatigue, and an increased risk for blood clots and recurrent infection. But in many cases, iron-deficient babies may be symptom-free.

About 10 percent of children between the ages of 1 and 3 fail to get enough iron. Babies of anemic mothers, low-birth weight or premature babies, children exclusively breast-fed beyond 6 months of age, those receiving nonhuman milk (like cow, goat, rice, or soy), and infants put on low-iron formulas before age 1 have an increased risk of developing iron deficiency. If you think your baby may be iron deficient, ask your doctor for blood tests to screen for hemoglobin levels.

Help prevent iron deficiency by eating iron-rich foods (beef, poultry, eggs, beans, and legumes) or taking supplements during pregnancy. Also, at your baby’s birth, delay clamping the umbilical cord for about two to three minutes to increase the amount of blood she receives from the placenta.

Exclusively breast-feeding for the first 6 months appears to protect a baby against anemia. (If you can’t breast-feed, choose an iron-fortified formula.) After 6 months, breast milk alone will not provide sufficient iron, but most babies that age aren’t ready to eat iron-rich foods like meat and legumes. Instead, feed your baby two daily servings of iron-fortified grains or a children’s multivitamin with iron. Adding vitamin C-rich foods to your baby’s diet also greatly increases iron absorption from the gut, helping ensure your baby gets the iron she needs to thrive.

Roy Steinbock, MD, is a holistic pediatrician in Boulder, Colorado.

Stave Off Anemia
1. The best way to prevent infant anemia is by breast-feeding, says homeopath Kathy Thorpe, CH. Enrich your breast milk by eating plenty of meat, eggs, leafy greens, prunes, figs, apricots, molasses, and sea vegetables.
2. Take the herbal iron tonic Floradix during pregnancy and while nursing. This liquid solution is derived from whole foods and won’t cause constipation.
3. To maximize baby’s iron absorption, give her 6c (the lowest potency) of the homeopathic remedy Ferrum metallicum once daily for a week followed by 12c (next highest potency) once daily for two weeks. Dissolve two pellets in 4 oz of distilled water and put a few drops on her tongue. —Nora Simmons