Is My Picky Eater Getting Enough Iron?

Iron is a very important nutrient for your child’s growing body and mind. Iron helps make red blood cells (which prevents anemia), it supports healthy neurocognitive development, and it may even help your child’s stamina during exercise and sports. Yet many children are not getting enough iron, especially the picky eaters.

How do I know if my infant or child is iron deficient?

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in children, yet often you will see no sign that your child is not getting enough iron. For this reason, at Westchester Health we screen your child with a simple blood test at 12 months of age and again at 24 months when your child is in the office for a routine well-child check.

What can I do to prevent iron deficiency?

Heather Magnan, MD, FAAP

In infants

  1. If you are breastfeeding and don’t plan to start your child on solid foods until 6 months of age, your pediatrician may recommend an iron supplement when your baby is 4 months old.
  2. If you are formula feeding, you should never use a low iron formula, even if your baby is constipated.
  3. Don’t switch from formula to cow’s milk before it is recommended by your pediatrician (usually around 1 year of age).
  4. When your infant is ready to start solid foods, make an iron-fortified infant cereal part of their daily feeding routine.
  5. Foods high in vitamin C help your baby absorb iron from breast milk and formula. Some good choices to start around 6 months of age include cantaloupe, avocado and dark green vegetables.

Hildred Machuca, DO, FAAP

In children

  1. Don’t give your toddler or preschool-aged child more than 20 ounces of milk daily.
  2. Make sure your child is eating at least 3 servings of iron-containing foods daily. It is also ok to average this out over a week; some days may be easier than others.
  3. If your child has been prescribed an iron supplement, give the supplement with orange juice or another food containing vitamin C. Give the supplement in between meals and avoid giving it with dairy products, as dairy hinders the absorption of the iron.

My child doesn’t eat meat. Can he/she get enough iron without a supplement?

Yes. While iron from animal sources is more easily absorbed by the body than iron from non-animal sources, there are many other foods that contain adequate amounts of iron. Some examples:

  • Fortified cereals
  • Prune juice
  • Fresh spinach
  • Lentils
  • Almonds
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Raisins
  • Red beans

Be sure to include a food with vitamin C in the same meal so that the iron is more easily absorbed

If after reviewing your child’s diet, your pediatrician thinks that your child might benefit from more iron, he/she may recommend a multivitamin with iron. Be sure to read vitamin labels carefully, as many children’s vitamins do NOT contain iron. For example, kids love gummy vitamins, but very few of them contain iron. Also, be sure to keep vitamins and supplements out of children’s reach, as an overdose of iron can be harmful to them.

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers

Whatever the age of your child, count on the pediatricians of Westchester Health and Northwell Physician Partners for vital information to help you raise happy, healthy kids. Whether you have newborns, toddlers, adolescents or teenagers, we’ve got years of experience helping parents take care of their children and we’re here to help you with yours. Please call us at (914) 232-1919.

Concerned that your child may not be getting enough iron? Please come see us.

If you’re worried about your child’s iron intake and whether this might be effecting his/her health, please make an appointment with Westchester Health to see one of our pediatricians. We’ll examine your child, perform some blood tests, and based on the results, suggest some dietary guidelines going forward to make sure your child is getting enough nutrients. Most of all, we want to help you raise a healthy child and feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

By Heather Magnan, MD, FAAP and Hildred Machuca, DO, FAAP, Pediatric Physicians with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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