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Iron is crucial for babies’ and kids’ brain development, but lots of tots don’t get enough. Fortunately, new guidelines released Tuesday by the American Association of Pediatrics should help moms and doctors figure out just how much little ones need—and whether a child is iron-deficient. In addition to offering specific guidelines, the new report, which is being published in the November issue of Pediatrics, now recommends universal screening for iron deficiency anemia at 12 months of age.
We asked Ari Brown, MD, co-author of Baby 411 and the new book, Expecting 411, to break down the new guidelines into mom-friendly advice. Here’s what she said:
* Babies who are born full term and are fed an iron-containing formula (the standard ones all contain appropriate amounts of iron) don’t need any iron vitamin supplements. But do introduce iron-rich foods into your baby’s diet when she starts solid foods.
* Babies who are exclusively breastfed or get some breast milk supplemented with formula do need an iron-supplement starting at 4 months of age until 6 months of age -- when they start eating solid foods that contain iron. (Ask your pediatrician to recommend a supplement that’s the right dose for your baby.)
* Babies from 6-12 months of age should get about 11 mg per day of iron in their diets. The AAP nutrition committee recommends starting red meat sooner rather than later, and feeding high-iron containing vegetables and iron-fortified cereals to get those dietary needs met.
* Toddlers from 1-3 years of age need 7 mg per day of iron in their diets. If you have a picky toddler who won’t eat iron-rich foods, talk to your pediatrician about an iron vitamin supplement.
* Babies who are born prematurely (under 37 weeks) should get an iron supplement (2mg/kg -- your pediatrician can give you the proper dosing) by 1 month of age. Preemies who are breastfed should continue to get that iron supplement until they are weaned to formula or begin solid foods at 6 months of age.
Dr. Brown’s kids actually eat red meat and spinach (how’d she do that?!), but if your kid won’t, she offers the following suggestions:
- Add pureed meats into spaghetti sauce.
- Make spreads for toast or wheat crackers (think pate).
- Put ham cubes in a snack bag.
- Make chicken salad.
- Make breaded spinach and cheese poppers.
- Eat spinach raw and serve with a low-fat ranch dressing dip.
And, while it isn't as iron-rich or as bioavailable (meaning less gets absorbed and used by the body), cereals and other grain products that are fortified with iron also help get that daily dose in,” she says.
The bottom line, according to Dr. Brown: "Many babies get the iron they need, but it’s good to make a concerted effort to offer iron-rich foods once your baby starts eating solid foods. And, if you have a preemie or you are exclusively breastfeeding, be sure to ask your child's doc about iron supplements.”
You can also check out these iron-rich toddler foods and don't forget to pair them with foods high in vitamin C, which helps iron get absorbed.
How do you sneak iron-rich foods into your kid’s diet? Chime in below!