Why does my child need iron?
Iron is essential for a child's overall growth and development right from the time they are born. It carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, and also stores this oxygen in the muscles. Iron deficiency can lead to delays in physical and mental growth. A significant level of depletion in the iron stores in the body can also lead to anaemia.
How much iron does my child need?
Remember all the iron supplements you took during pregnancy? Those supplements actually help store iron in babies' bodies when they are born. However, just having iron stores is not enough; children need a regular supply of iron too, in order to fuel their rapid and healthy development. The iron requirements are different at different stages of a child's growth.
- Infants who breastfeed get iron from their mothers' milk till up to 6 months of age.
- Post this iron-fortified cereal and iron-fortified formula is usually given to them. Though, it is recommended that you continue breastfeeding even at this stage.
- Babies need about 11mg of iron between the ages of 7 and 12 months.
- At the toddler (1 to 3 years) stage, this requirement reduces to about 7mg a day.
- From the age of 4 to 8 years, a child's iron requirement increases to about 10mg a day, as this is when they experience their next significant growth spurt.
- Older children, aged between 9 and 13 years, need 8mg of iron each day.
- At adolescence, boys need about 11mg of iron in their daily diet whereas girls require about 15mg daily, as this is the next growth milestone for all children (The requirement is more for girls as they usually begin their menstrual cycle at this age).
What are the signs of iron deficiency in children?
Iron deficiency can impair a child's ability to function normally. However, the signs appear only once the child reaches the stage of anaemia. These are some of the things that you can look out for to know if your child is iron deficient:
- Pale skin
- Fatigue, or weakness, or even shortness of breath after normal activities such as playing in the park or climbing up the stairs
- Slow cognitive and social development
- Inflammation of the tongue
- Difficulty in maintaining body temperature
- Unusual cravings for substances like ice, dirt or pure starch
How can I ensure I am giving sufficient iron to my child in his/her daily diet?
Till the child reaches 1 year of age, breast milk is the best source of iron. In case you are unable to breast feed, use an iron-fortified formula. After the first year, try and introduce a well-balanced diet with high nutritive value. Foods such as red meat, chicken, fish, beans and green leafy vegetables are a great source of iron. Another tip is to ensure your child has enough Vitamin C in her diet as it helps in absorption of dietary iron. Melons, strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes and even lime, are some good sources of Vitamin C. If the child is a fussy eater, and does not have 3 balanced meals a day, speak to a paediatrician to start them on iron supplements to ensure they are getting a daily dose of the mineral.