Iron Supplements For Breastfed Babies – Is it Necessary and Importances

6 min read

Written by Aparna Hari

Aparna Hari

Iron Supplements For Breastfed Babies

Breastfeeding is a special bond between the mother and the baby. It is not about nutrition but even the touch and the moments they spend together. This is also the time when the mothers get stressed and wonder if they are able to offer all adequate nutrients to the baby, one of which is iron. Iron is the major source that gives oxygen to the cells and helps in promoting the proper functioning of the brain. In this article, we will learn all about iron supplements for breastfed babies and why they are important.

The mother is always told that breastmilk is the best milk and has all the nutrients a baby needs, the ideal food to be given to babies till they are six months. It is so full of everything a baby needs that not even a drop of water is given to babies who are breastfed. But sometimes, babies need extra iron supplementation.

In This Article

Importance of Iron For Babies

Iron is an important nutrient for human beings at all stages of life.

  • This mineral plays a crucial role in the formation of hemoglobin, as essential element of red blood cells which carry oxygen to all the parts of the body.
  • Iron in also vital for the neurological development in the first few years of a baby’s life.
  • A deficiency of iron can result in many symptoms that can hamper the growth and development of a baby.
  • Iron is one of the minerals that help in the proper functioning of a body.
  • It helps the blood to transport oxygen from the lungs to different cells and parts of the baby’s body.
  • Low iron levels can lead to anemia which can hamper the growth and development of a baby
  • Iron is also vital for the growth and development of the baby’s brain.
  • Premature babies who are on mother’s milk need iron supplements as they don’t have iron reserves prior to birth.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency in Babies

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

Whether the baby is breastfed or given formula as a supplement, there are a few indicators that show the baby is anemic. Few signs of iron deficiency in babies are

1. Weakness

The baby may feel tired most of the time, show least interest in activities which they otherwise enjoy doing and always seem sleepy or drowsy.

[Read : Signs And Cues That Your Baby Is Tired]

2. Pale Skin

Due to deficiency of iron, the skin color changes so does its texture. It starts appearing pale, dull, and is very obvious around the hands as well as the eyelids.

3. Breathing Issues

Babies who are iron-deficient face problems breathing due to insufficient oxygen supply.

4. Increased Heart Rate

Low oxygen supply will cause the heart to beat faster to compensate for the lack of oxygen which will in turn result in an increased heart rate.

5. Low Appetite and Lack of Interest in Eating

You will observe that your baby is not eating or drinking properly. They don’t seem to even enjoy the foods they otherwise relish.

6. Increased Irritability

A combination of difficulty breathing with a low appetite and weakness will cause your baby to stay cranky for most part of the day.

[Read : Irritability in Babies]

7. Pica

Pica is a condition wherein the baby has a craving for non-food items like chalk, sand, etc, Sometimes pica in babies can also be a symptom of the deficiency of other vital nutrients.

8. Poor Weight, Head Circumference and Height

As the body is iron deficient, there is not enough oxygen for the cells to grow. Babies do not show enough growth the meet the expected milestones for their age.

9. Swelling

Babies who are iron-deficient also have swelling in the hands, feet, and limbs.

Are Iron Supplements For Breastfed Babies Necessary?

This entirely depends on your baby and what sort of formula they are having.

  • An exclusively breastfed baby and a partially breastfed baby both require iron supplements after they are 4 months old.
  • Pre-term or premature breastfed or formula-fed babies will also need iron supplements as they have less iron reserves.
  • Your pediatrician will recommend iron supplements for your baby id they feel it necessary
  • If your baby’s formula  is iron-fortified, then there is no need for iron supplements.

Importance of Iron Supplements For Breastfed Babies

Importance of Iron Supplements For Breastfed Babies

We consider breast milk to be an abundant source of all the nutrients that a growing baby needs. But why then do doctors recommend iron supplementation for breastfed babies? The reason lays in the fact that mother’s milk is not a very good source of iron for babies. Whatever iron reserves a baby has it from its body before birth. This is why premature babies are routinely given iron supplements.

An article published by the National Library of Medicine on Iron The Breastfed Infant states that babies who receive iron supplements in the form of drops between 1 and 6 months of their life have much better cognitive and psychomotor skills and visual development when compared to babies who are not given the supplements.

When Should You Consider Iron Supplements For Breastfed Babies?

mom breastfeeding baby

As per health experts iron supplements can be given till 6 months. After 6 months, once the baby is on solids, you can introduce iron rich foods like green veggies.

The pediatrician will recommend giving babies who have the following conditions.

  • Low iron levels
  • Obese or who are overweight babies
  • Exclusive breastfed babies
  • Premature babies or babies whose wight is low at birth.
  • Babies who take formula that is not iron fortified
  • Babies who get exposure to lead
  • Infants with chronic illness
  • Babies on solids who are not eating iron-rich foods

Most Common Iron Supplements For Breastfeed Babies

iron-rich food

If your baby is younger than 6 months, your pediatrician will prescribe pediatric iron drops for your baby. You must stick to the dosage and duration as per the doctor’s recommendation for best results.

When the baby is six months old it is advisable to give iron-rich foods. Iron gets the best absorption in the body when given with other minerals and vitamins. The best sources for the same are fresh vegetables and fruits, grains, proteins, iron-fortified foods or cereals etc.

The ideal iron-rich food choices for the baby include

  • Dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Peas
  • Apricots
  • Lentils
  • Legumes like chickpeas, white beans etc.
  • Proteins like tofu, eggs, fish, turkey
  • Red meat like liver, beef, ham and lamb
  • Iron fortified formula and cereal.
  • Dates

[Read : Lentils For Babies]

Are There Any Side Effects of Iron Supplements For Breastfeed Babies?

Current research data suggests that there are no known side effects of iron supplements for babies. But remember that you must give these supplements under the strict supervision of the pediatrician. You must not start these drops for your baby without talking to the doctor.

Some babies may experience constipation when on iron drops. You can talk to your pediatrician in case your baby is experiencing this problem.

Mother’s milk is not a great source of iron and hence iron supplementation for breastfed babies is a must. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia which can play havoc with your baby’s growth and development. Do talk to your pediatrician for advice, dosage and recommendations.


1. How Long Should Babies Take Iron Supplements?

Babies can be given iron supplements from month one till they are six months old or as the pediatrician suggests.

2. What Baby Food Has the Most Iron?

The baby food with the maximum iron content is the iron-fortified cereal that can be given to babies.

3 Can Iron Supplements Make Baby Gassy?

Some babies can have symptoms such as stomach tightness and constipation while on iron supplements.

4. Does Formula Have More Iron Than Breast Milk?

Breast milk contains very small quantities of iron. Comparatively, formula contains more iron. Iron fortified formula is the best option if you want to meet your baby’s iron requirements through milk.

Read Also: Iron Deficiency Anemia In Toddlers

Aparna Hari,MBA in Marketing,P.G. Diploma in Human Resource Management from IGNOU Bachelor of Sciences (Home Science) from Nagarjuna University

Her experience in impactful writing combined with her background in Home Sciences makes Aparna the perfect candidate for content writing in the pregnancy and parenting niche.Read more.

Responses (0)

Please check a captcha

Want curated content sharply tailored for your exact stage of parenting?

Discover great local businesses around you for your kids.

Get regular updates, great recommendations and other right stuff at the right time.


Our site uses cookies to make your experience on this site even better. We hope you think that is sweet.