Iron Deficiency In Early Childhood

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Childhood iron deficiency is a common nutritional deficiency associated with infants. Iron is a mineral important for healthy blood and brain development. Our bodies need iron to make hemoglobin,(a protein that gives color to red blood cells). Hemoglobin functions as a carrier of oxygen in the body.

What are the consequences?

The most well-known consequence of iron deficiency is anemia. Anemia can cause developmental delays and behavioral disturbances such as decreased motor activity, social interaction and attention to tasks. Several studies show an increased likelihood of mild or moderate mental retardation associated with iron deficiency, even if it has not progressed to the point of anemia.

Childhood lead poisoning is a well-documented cause of neurological and developmental problems such as lower IQ, learning disabilities and behavioral abnormalities. Iron deficiency contributes to the problem through increased absorption of lead.

Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA)

There are several types of anemia, all with different causes. IDA is the most common type, happens when people do not have enough iron in their body. When children do not get enough iron, they may have slow weight gain, pale skin, decreased appetite, irritability, tiredness, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and feeling of being lightheaded.

What are the causes?

A child can have a low iron level because of insufficient iron in the diet, poor absorption of iron by the body or ongoing blood loss.

Who is at risk?

Premature and low-birth-weight children: Children need different amounts of iron at different ages and stages. Infants are born with a reserve of iron from their mother’s blood, which can meet their needs until 4 to 6 months of age. After that, they need to get iron from food or supplements. Since premature and low-birth-weight children have little iron stored in their bodies, they are at greater risk for iron-deficiency.

Infants and toddlers: A fast rate of growth together with inadequate dietary iron puts children less than 24 months of age at the highest risk for iron deficiency.

Young children are at risk if:

  • Their nutrition is poor
  • They have lead in their blood
  • They drink too much cow’s milk or are introduced to whole cow’s milk before 1 year of age
  • They are breastfed longer than 4 to 6 months without receiving complimentary iron-rich solid foods or iron supplements
  • They are fed with low-iron formula
  • They are living at or below the poverty line

Tips for prevention

  • Exercise exclusive breast-feeding (without supplementary liquid, formula or food) for the first 4-6 months.
  • If breast-feeding is not possible, use only iron-fortified infant formula.
  • Add complimentary foods with sources of iron at 4 to 6 months of age.
  • Avoid use of regular cow, goat or soy milk before age 12 months.
  • Discourage children aged 1-5 years from consuming more than 24 oz of cow’s milk.
  • Provide foods with Vitamin C as it helps the body absorb iron.
  • Offer foods such as red meat, lentils, iron fortified bread, leafy green vegetables and dried fruits since they are rich in iron.
  • Provide breakfast cereals that are fortified with iron-check ingredients on the package.



Author: Bibian Okoye

A Retired Chief Nursing Officer, PGDip IHM

8 thoughts on “Iron Deficiency In Early Childhood”

  1. Bibian, your site is so well documented and at the same time so easy to read. That is a plus for us readers who do not know much about the subJect.
    Before reading your post I did not realize babies could be subject to anemia too. Your tips and hints for babies and toddlers are more than welcome for parents and grandparents. And all those in charge of young children. Well done.!

    Your site is a bliss for many!
    And a safe reference for daily advice and councel.

    Thank you

    1. Thank you Fragrance for finding my site helpful. Babies cannot help themselves it is their mothers. So it is to make it easy for mothers to read and evaluate the best ways to help their infants out of problems and to assist them all the way as they are growing both physically and otherwise

  2. When we had our youngest we didn’t introduce her to cows milk until after she was one year old, when we did we had to keep the amounts very small as she reacted with the milk which must be due to the lactose also we intoduced raw veges for her to chew on to help with iron intake, that works quite well.

    1. That’s ok dear, you see babies can’t digest cow’s milk as completely or easily as breast milk or formula. Because cow milk contains high concentrations of protein and minerals, which can tax your baby’s immature kidneys.So it is advisable to introduce it gently

  3. Bibian,

    Thanks for the insightful article. I’m not a parent yet, but definitely want to be one in the future. So I’ll keep this in mind as I raise the child. I’ve always heard the importance of iron, but didn’t know how important it was for little kids. I mean those consequences are scary. 

    One of the problems I think is for those that are brought up in poorer or less developed countries. A lot of the times the parents aren’t educated and are unaware of any symptoms until it is too late. A lot of times not only are the kids having poor nutrition, but the mom is as well thus she is not providing rich breast milk herself. I know this is not something that we can cure quickly but perhaps an education on this globally would help!

  4. Your article is very interesting. Iron deficiency is more common than many of us think. My mom for her whole life have been suffering from it. She recover herself by eating eggs, don’t cooked, I myself did not like but really after a month taken it she is okay. Now she is 87 and only take the yolks. Thank you for this review. 

    1. Thanks Maria for the comment

      I think eggs are really good for the body because the egg yolk contains iron. Inside our body, oxidation can make the iron inflammatory But the iron in egg yolks is safe from oxidation because it comes packaged with phosvitin. Egg whites have some antioxidants, that is why it helped your mum recover properly.

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