As such, toddlers are very an amazement in themselves. Some days they will refuse to eat a painstakingly prepared meal and on others they lick mud. In spite of this, parents need to be careful that they are getting enough iron in their diet as it is required for proper growth and development. Why, when and how much iron do these little balls of energy need? How can we ensure that they are getting enough iron? Is not getting enough iron a threat to my toddler? These are some of the questions that parents usually ask.
Why Do Children Require Iron?
Iron is a very important mineral as it is a key part of hemoglobin, a protein in our blood that carries oxygen from the lungs around the body and so plays a vital role in the functioning of the brain and muscles. Children who are extremely iron deficient or anemic, can have behavioral or developmental problems like delays in growth both in physical and mental terms.
How Much Iron Does A Growing Child Need?
The recommended amount of iron is 11 mg for infants from 7 months to 1 year and 7 mg for toddlers from 1 to 3 years. On birth, babies are born with iron that is stored in their bodies. However, to continue growth and development at a steady pace, babies need additional iron which must be supplied to them through their diet
What Are The Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency In Toddlers?
While iron deficiency does not have many symptoms, mild cases can be spotted when your toddler is easily tired or unable to focus or listless. Mild and more severe cases can also result is a pale, out-of-breath toddler whose immunity is much lower than usual. In order to confirm it, a blood test would be required. Symptoms for more severe cases also include difficulties maintaining body temperature and pica, unusual cravings for dirt, chalk, ice etc.
Is My Baby At A Risk Of Iron Deficiency?
Infants and toddlers can at risk of developing iron deficiency due to:
- Premature or low birth weight babies
- Breast fed babies that aren’t given additional iron-rich foods after six months. After a baby attains the age of 6 months, his diet needs to be supplemented with other foods than breastmilk
- Formula fed babies not given iron fortified formula
- Babies drinking cow’s milk before 1 years of age or infants and toddlers drinking more than 710 ml milk a day
- Infants and toddlers prone to infection or on restricted diets or those who have lead exposure
Combating Iron Deficiency in Toddlers and Small Children
While iron supplements seem an easy solution, it is not recommended to give them to infants or toddlers unless prescribed by a doctor. However, a few simple dietary changes can ensure your child is receiving adequate iron. In cases of extreme deficiency, drops might be prescribed. In these cases, it can take upto two months for the iron levels to return to normal and another half to one year to build up iron stores, maintained by a healthy diet.
Breast fed babies post the age of 6 months should be given additional iron fortified cereals and other food that can help fight iron deficiency. An iron-rich diet can be maintained by providing food that are good sources of iron:
- Meat – lean red such as lamb, dark chicken meat from thighs or legs or liver ( not more than once a week)
- Oily fish such as mackeral (bangda), tuna or salmon (rawas)
- Green vegetables especially the leafy kind
- Grains like ragi ( red millet), dals, rajma (kidney beans), lobia (black eyed beans)
- Dried fruits like raisins (kishmish), dried apricots, dried figs, prunes, dates
- Nuts ( care should be taken while given to infants and toddlers to prevent choking)
- Iron fortified food such as some types of bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits and other snacks
- Fruits such as pomegranate
Apart from this, foods can be given to ensure the healthy absorption of iron. This is done by giving food rich in Vitamin C :
- Fruits such as citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi fruit, papaya or pineapple
- Vegetables such as capsicum, broccoli, peas or cauliflower
- Diluted fruit juices especially of the citrus kind
Can I Give Cow’s Milk To My Baby?
Cow’s milk is not recommended for babies less than a year old. Cow’s milk does not contain enough iron to fuel a baby’s growth and too much cow’s milk is a strict no. Milk also makes it harder for the body to absorb iron thus paving way for iron deficiency anemia.Care should also be taken to ensure too much milk or calcium rich foods such as cheese, paneer, curd, some vegetables and nuts like almonds are not given during and in between meals as calcium hinders the absorption of iron. A toddler only requires around 350 – 500 ml of milk in one day.
How Can I Prevent Iron Deficiency In My Toddler?
Iron deficiency in children can be completely avoided with a little care and attention to what they are eating. While ensuring your child has enough iron in their diet is a must, there is no need to panic if they refuse to eat iron rich food one day and wolf it down the next. The body stores iron and has enough supplies to fill in the gaps. The rule of thumb here is to ensure your toddler gets a well-balanced and nutritious diet covering all food groups over a week, monitor their growth and development and approach the doctor in case of any concern.