Avoiding Anemia in Infants and Toddlers

Avoiding anemia in infants and toddlers

The dreaded finger-prick at the pediatrician’s office is scary, but is essential when testing for a serious condition: iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency in the blood means the child has fewer or smaller red blood cells than normal, and this condition arises when the child doesn’t get enough iron in his or her diet.

Causes of Iron Deficiency Anemia in Babies and Toddlers

In small kids, anemia is often caused by the child consuming too much cow’s milk. The calcium in milk effectively blocks the absorption of much of the iron the child should be able to get from other foods. Plus, milk and dairy foods are often given in place of more iron-rich foods.

Babies who are exclusively breastfed are also at risk of becoming anemic, which is why doctors usually prescribe vitamin drops with iron for babies at about the age of 6 months.

Babies and toddlers are also more susceptible to iron deficiency anemia during growth spurts, but anemia is a condition that develops over time and takes time to treat.

Symptoms and Risks of Iron Deficiency Anemia

The classic symptoms of anemia are pale skin, listlessness and fatigue. However, many anemic babies and toddlers don’t show those symptoms at all – so a finger-prick is necessary.

Left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can cause decreased attention span, behavior problems and other mental and physical problems – some of which may be irreversible. That’s why it’s important to treat anemia right away, but be aware that too much of a good thing can be poisonous when it comes to iron.

So if the child is already on iron-fortified baby formula, don’t also add an iron supplement without consulting the child’s pediatrician.

Preventing and Treating Iron Deficiency Anemia

These other tips can help increase iron absorption in babies and toddlers:

Offer foods rich in vitamin C, which helps increase iron absorption. Good choices include cantaloupe, kiwi, strawberries and oranges.

Use iron-fortified baby cereal mixed with a non-dairy baby formula or breastmilk.

Feed toddlers iron-rich foods like whole grains, meat, raisins, chicken, fish, hard-boiled eggs, beans, dark leafy greens and enriched cereals, pasta and bread.

Try not to feed the child those iron-rich foods at the same time as cow’s milk, which can limit the absorption of iron!

Invest in a cast-iron skillet, which can significantly boost the iron content of foods. For best results, cook acidic foods like tomato-based pasta sauces in the cast-iron skillet – and take plenty of time: and the longer the food cooks, the more iron it absorbs.

Offer the child iron-fortified breakfast cereals without milk to interfere with iron absorption. For instance, place the cereal in a Ziploc-type bag and present it as a snack!

Calcium is important too, of course. But with a little effort, it’s easy to alternate iron-rich foods with milk so the child gets the best of both – and avoids iron deficiency anemia.