Is breastmilk affected by mother's iron intake?

I take iron every day. Does my baby benefit from my iron intake or is iron one of those things that doesn't absorb into our system, therefore not passing through breastmilk?

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Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Iron is present in breastmilk, though the amount secreted in your milk is not affected by your iron intake or blood iron levels.

Although breastmilk does not contain large amounts of iron, it is very well absorbed. About 50 percent of the iron in breastmilk is absorbed, compared to seven percent absorption from formula and four percent absorption from infant cereals. (Dallman, 1986) Your baby receives approximately .15 to .68 mg of iron per day through breastfeeding. The full-term healthy newborn is born with iron stores, that along with the iron received through his mother's milk, will see him well into the second half of his first year of life without supplementation. Iron deficiency is uncommon in breastfed babies during the first six months of life.

If you are concerned about your baby's iron (hemoglobin) levels, ask your baby's health care provider to perform a simple blood test (heel prick.) Normal levels for a six month old range from between 10.5 and 14 gm/dl, with the average being 12. (Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, Behrman, Kliegman and Arvin, 1996)

Though the composition of your breastmilk remains virtually unaffected by your iron levels, it is important to be sure that your levels are within the normal range following your baby's birth. Anemia in the nursing mother has been associated with poor milk supply.

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