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Iron Deficiency in Toddlers

What is Iron?

Iron is an important dietary mineral that is needed for many functions in the body, including:

  • Transporting oxygen around the body
  • Providing energy
  • Brain development
  • Supporting the immune system in fighting infections.

What Causes Iron Deficiency?

Children are at an increased risk of becoming iron deficient as their increased needs are not met by their diet, especially when they have rapid growth spurts which can be hard to meet if their diet isn’t balanced. Some other causes include;

  • Not including enough iron-rich foods in your little one’s diet
  • Drinking milk in place of eating solid foods
  • A vegetarian or vegan diet
  • A gastrointestinal condition, e.g. coeliac disease.

What are The Symptoms of Iron Deficiency?

  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Increase in sweating
  • Breathlessness
  • Less ability to fight infections
  • Faltered growth.

Treatment of Iron Deficiency

It is important to seek guidance from your healthcare professional if you’re concerned your baby is iron deficient. Treatment may include:

  • Increasing iron rich foods in their diet
  • Iron supplements, suitable for infants (only to be administered under medical supervision)
  • Treating any infection that may be causing anaemia in your child.

Do not give your baby over the counter iron supplements unless advised by your doctor. High doses of iron can be toxic to toddlers, and an overdose can be lethal. As a precaution, keep any iron supplements tightly capped and out of reach of children.

How Much Iron Does My Toddler Need?

The recommended dietary intake of iron for toddlers is:

  • 1 to 3 years: 9mg per day.

How Can My Toddler Get Iron?

Foods which contain iron include;

  • Red meat
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Legumes, such as baked beans, kidney beans, chick peas and lentils
  • Eggs
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Wholemeal breads and cereals
  • Dried fruit.

Preventing Iron Deficiency

  • Include lean red meat in your toddler’s diet 3-4 times a week. If your family is vegan or vegetarian, it’s a good idea to seek advice from your healthcare professional about what you can offer your child instead
  • Offer your toddler foods containing vitamin C, such as broccoli or oranges, with iron-rich foods as this can help with the absorption of iron
  • Make sure your toddler isn’t filling up on milk or other drinks instead of eating solid foods
  • If your little one is a fussy eater, they may be at risk of iron deficiency if they are not eating enough or if they don’t have variety in their diet. Seek advice from your healthcare professional on how to manage this and for more information on Fussy Eaters, click here.

Supplementary milk drinks are suitable to include as part of a toddler’s daily food intake as a nutritious supplement when intakes of energy and nutrients may not be adequate.