Iron is a nutrient that's essential to your child's growth and development. Iron helps move oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and helps muscles store and use oxygen. Untreated iron deficiency in children can cause physical and mental delays in areas such as walking and talking.
Risk factors for iron deficiency in children
- Babies who are born prematurely — more than three weeks before their due date — or have a low birth weight
- Babies who drink cow's milk before age 1
- Breast-fed babies who aren't given complementary foods containing iron after age 6 months
- Babies who drink formula that isn't fortified with iron
- Children ages 1 to 5 who drink more than 710 milliliters of cow's milk, goat's milk or soy milk a day
- Children who have certain health conditions, such as chronic infections or restricted diets
Adolescent girls also are at higher risk of iron deficiency because their bodies lose iron during menstruation.
Many kids with iron deficiency don't show any symptoms because the body's iron stores are depleted slowly. As the anemia progresses, you may recognize some of the following symptoms in your child:
- fatigue and weakness
- pale skin and mucous membranes
- rapid heartbeat or a new heart murmur (detected in an exam by your child's doctor)
- decreased appetite
- dizziness or a feeling of being lightheaded
Rarely, a person with IDA may experience pica, a craving to eat nonfood items such as paint chips, chalk, or dirt. Pica may be caused by a lack of iron in the diet.
Prevention of iron deficiency in children
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants be fed breast milk or iron-fortified formula for at least 12 months. The AAP does NOT recommend giving cow's milk to children under 1 year old.
Diet is the most important way to prevent and treat iron deficiency.
The best sources of iron include:
- Baby formula with iron
- Breast milk (the iron is very easily used by the child)
- Infant cereals and other iron-fortified cereals
- Prune juice
Other good sources of iron include:
- Kale and other greens
- Chicken and other meats
- Dried beans and lentils
- Peanut butter
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