Iron Deficiency in Children- How to Avoid It

Iron deficiency in children is a significant concern for parents, as this health issue can lead to developmental delays, impaired cognitive function, and a weakened immune system. Ensuring that young children get an adequate amount of iron in their diets is crucial for their overall health and well-being. 

In this article, we’ll explore a handful of strategies that show parents how to increase iron levels in their children.

What is Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency is a health condition that’s characterized by insufficient levels of iron in the body, which can lead to a range of health issues, especially when it comes to children’s growth and development. Iron is essential for hemoglobin production, which is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Low iron results in reduced oxygen delivery to various tissues and organs. It’s a significant concern across the globe, especially among children, but fortunately, this condition is preventable with dietary changes, children’s iron supplements, and even medical intervention.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency in Children

Tired boy trying to eat his cereals

Iron deficiency can manifest in children in a number of ways, so it’s important for parents to know what to look out for. Should you notice one or more of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to reach out to your child’s pediatrician.

  • Pale skin or paleness of the lips, hands, and under the eyes
  • Eating (or wanting to eat) non-food items, which is also known as Pica
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Sore or swollen tongue
  • Irritability or crankiness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Becoming sick or experiencing infections more often than other children

How to Prevent Iron Deficiency

If you want to increase your child’s iron intake, here’s how to get more iron into his or her diet. Follow these simple steps.

1. Providing Nutrient-Rich Food

Smiley girl playing with food

One of the most fundamental ways to prevent iron deficiency in children is by providing them with a nutrient-rich diet. Foods high in iron include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, tofu, iron-fortified cereals, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale. By incorporating some of the best sources of iron into your child’s diet, you can help boost their iron intake naturally.

Providing enough iron for babies may be a little more challenging than providing iron for kids. If your child is still a baby, consider talking to his or her doctor about infant iron drops or another form of baby iron supplements.

2. Limiting Cow’s Milk Consumption

Though milk is an essential part of a child’s diet when it comes to calcium absorption, too much milk consumption can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb enough iron. Cow’s milk, in particular, contains both calcium and casein, which can inhibit iron absorption when consumed in large quantities. As such, it’s a good idea to limit your child’s milk intake to two cups per day for toddlers and older children. In addition, parents should avoid giving cow’s milk to children under 12 months old altogether.

3. Using Cast Iron Cookware

Young woman cooking fresh vegetables in iron pan at home.

Using cast iron cookware to prepare your child’s meals may increase the iron content of food, especially when it comes to acidic foods like tomato sauce. When cooking with cast iron, small amounts of iron seep into the food being prepared, which can boost its iron content.

4. Ensuring Enough Vitamins in a Child’s Diet

Vitamin C plays an incredibly important role in iron absorption in the body, so it’s essential to include plenty of vitamin C-rich foods in your child’s diet. Fruits like oranges, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, and vegetables like bell peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C. Pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods can help enhance your child’s iron absorption and prevent iron deficiency from developing.

If your child is too young for solid food, you might want to talk to your pediatrician about introducing baby vitamins.

5. Regular Screenings & Iron Supplements for Kids

Doctor examining iron deficiency in children

Attending regular iron screenings is crucial for identifying iron deficiency as early as possible. Your child’s pediatrician can perform a simple blood test to check their iron levels and determine whether supplementation is necessary. If your child appears to be at risk of iron deficiency, their pediatrician may recommend infant iron supplements to help them meet their iron needs. However, it’s essential to follow your pediatrician’s guidance when it comes to iron supplements for babies, as excessive iron intake can be just as dangerous as not enough iron in a child’s diet.

Preventing iron deficiency in children requires a multi-faceted approach that includes a nutrient-rich diet, vitamin C-rich foods, supplementation (such as iron drops for babies), and regular pediatric care. By implementing these strategies, you can help ensure that your child gets an adequate amount of iron to support their growth and development, setting them up for a healthy and thriving future.