Iron-Rich Foods that your Baby Should Not Miss
Updated: Jun 28, 2022
Being a child nutritionist I have always known the importance of iron in babies, however it was not until I had my daughter that I understood how easy it is to forget to introduce foods with iron in the first months. Iron is an extremely important mineral for the growth and development of your baby. If you are preparing for introducing solids to your baby's diet, it is important that your baby receives foods high in iron, especially if you continue to exclusively breastfeed.
Why is it important?
Iron is essential to transport oxygen to all the organs of the body. When the body doesn't get enough iron, red blood cells aren't produced properly, which affects your baby's growth and development. Babies with iron deficiency can have long-term physical and mental delays, as well as cognitive problems. In fact, iron is the most deficient nutrient globally. A study published in Pediatrics found long-term damage in adults with iron deficiency in childhood. Specifically, they found problems with concentration, memory, and even developed up to 10 years later. For this reason, in the US it is recommended to do blood tests in children aged 9-12 months to rule out any iron deficiency.
Full-term babies are born with sufficient iron stores until they are 4-6 months old. From 6 months, iron needs "triple" due to their rapid growth. This time also coincides with complementary feeding and that is why it is critical to know which foods to introduce. Breast milk is poor in iron and lacks the amounts necessary to meet the nutritional requirements of babies older than 6 months. If your baby is fed formula, she may be at less risk of developing deficiencies since baby formulas are fortified with iron. In no way does it mean that you have to stop breastfeeding. On the contrary, I recommend that you continue with exclusive breast milk. Although breast milk is poor in iron, this iron is very well absorbed. If you continue to exclusively breastfeed and are about to start complementary feeding, your main focus should be to include foods high in iron.
How much iron does my baby need?
Beyond overwhelming yourself with the exact number of iron, focus on including 1-2 high-iron foods per day. You can also combine it with a food high in vitamin C to improve its absorption.
7 to 12 months – 11 milligrams
1 to 3 years – 7 milligrams
4 to 8 years – 10 milligrams
What foods contain iron?
When you first start to introduce solids to your baby, the first thing they recommend is cereal. But why cereal? The baby cereal has been fortified with iron to precisely meet the nutritional requirements of that age. But there are other foods, beyond cereal, that are also good options to include. Here is a list of "baby friendly" foods high in iron that you can easily start including in your baby's diet.
Eggs- If you use the BLW method, you can offer it scrambled into easy-to-grasp pieces. Otherwise you can cook the yolk and mix it with cereal or even with a fruit.
Sweet Potatoes- One of my favorites. Cook it in the oven and you can give it in pieces or puree mixed with apple and cinnamon.
Lentils- A protein of non-animal origin that contains a high content of iron, potassium and zinc. Maximize its absorption by mixing it with a fruit or vegetable high in vitamin C such as apple, peach or bell pepper.
Meat- (Chicken/Cow's) You can give it in cooked porridge or also in small pieces so that it can be grasped with the fingers.
Salmon- I always recommend it as part of the first 5 meals you introduce. Apart from being a source of iron, it contains omega 3, calcium, zinc and vitamin D.
Spinach- A superfood for the whole family. A vegetable with high iron content, but not of animal origin. Also known as non-heme iron. You can mix it in porridge with a fruit with vitamin C such as mango to make a delicious compote high in iron.
Now you know, make sure to include 1 or 2 high-iron foods from the start. Introducing solids with your baby is an exciting stage, but also full of doubts. Clarify all your doubts and learn about the new pediatric recommendations to start a healthy diet from an early age.