Infants have higher iron requirements than adults, and it’s vitally important that a growing baby get enough iron for normal growth and development. During the first six months of life, babies generally get enough iron from their moms – through breastfeeding. In addition, they usually have sufficient iron stores to keep them healthy for the first few months of life. But once an infant reaches six months of age, iron becomes more of an issue. At this point, they enter a rapid growth phase, which increases their need for iron.
Iron for Infants: Iron-Enriched Foods and Formulas
To meet iron requirements for infants, manufacturers make iron-fortified foods and formulas for growing babies – to help them get the iron they need. Unfortunately, these iron-enriched foods and formulas may not be a reliable source of iron for infants.
According to an article published in Nutrition Reviews by Professor Richard Hurrell, iron-enriched foods and infant formulas provide babies with iron in a form they can’t readily absorb. Most contain ferrous fumarate, rather than the easier-to-absorb ferrous sulphate. In fact, Professor Hurrell claims that ferrous fumarate absorption is 30% less than an equal amount of ferrous sulphate. This means growing babies may not be getting enough iron from their iron-fortified formula after all.
Why is Iron in Infants So Important?
Iron is important for growth and for healthy red blood cells – and an iron deficiency in infants can have serious long-term health consequences.
According to a study published on Medscape.com, infants who are iron deficient can develop memory deficits that persist into childhood. Iron has a direct effect on the nervous system and the developing brain, so it’s not surprising that inadequate amounts of iron can lead to cognitive changes and memory problems. Infants and children who are deficient in iron have reduced attention spans and are less alert. They’re also more likely to have learning problems.
Iron requirements are even higher for small babies. Babies with a low birth weight and those born prematurely may need iron supplements even before six months of age to help them grow and develop normally.
Iron for Babies: The Bottom Line?
Iron is crucial mineral needed for healthy growth and brain and nervous system development. The iron in iron-enriched foods and formulas isn’t absorbed well, so some babies may not be getting enough in their diet. This is particularly true of babies born prematurely and those who were of low birth weight. Talk to your baby’s doctor about whether your baby needs an iron supplement.
Food Navigator website. “Iron fortified infant foods may not be delivering: Study”
Medscape.com. “Iron-Deficiency Anemia Linked to Memory Deficits in Children”