Iron deficiency anemia occurs when there are not enough red blood cells in the blood to maintain general health. It is especially important to growing children when born premature, weaned early or has not received iron fortified solid food at the right time. My second child started early in her iron deficiency. She was a robust, healthy baby weighing in at 10 pounds 3 ounces and 23 inches long. I breastfed her for approximately six months and she was a hearty eater. As recommended, I tried to hold off introducing solid food too early. Breastfeeding was not enough for my hungry child. At three months of age, she started with bronchitis episodes and at18 months old diagnosed as asthmatic. Due to my second child’s respiratory bouts and her choice to wean herself from the breast, her pediatrician decided to routinely check her iron and other blood levels. From four months of age until she was around three or four years of age my daughter’s tests repeatedly showed low iron levels.
The pediatrician was very diligent in checking my daughter’s health. My daughter appeared healthy despite her early weaning and refusal of a bottle. The doctor informed me of the signs of anemia, ran routine tests to watch the iron levels in my daughter’s blood, prescribed an iron supplement and discussed ways to introduce more iron into her diet.
Signs of Iron Deficiency in Children
Slow development (physical, mental and social)
Unusual cravings or eating patterns
Excessive cold or hot extremities
Tired, weak and lethargic
Typical Preventive Practices to Avoid Iron Deficiency
Breast-fed children are less likely to be iron deficient, but an iron-fortified formula is an alternative. If your child is primarily still breast-feeding, or fed formula, a doctor may prescribe an iron supplement.
Once a child is eating solid food, around 4 months of age, iron fortified cereal is recommended. An older child able to eat regular solid food, add iron rich foods to their diet. Green leafy vegetables like spinach are a wonderful source of iron. I would grind spinach and add to spaghetti sauce, cereal, hamburger and other dishes. Once I even told my children, we were having a special dinner by candle light so they did not notice the darker color of the sauce. They still remember mom’s trickery.
Adding vitamin c helps your child to absorb as much of the available iron as possible. When I serve spaghetti with tomato sauce enriched with ground spinach, I increase vitamin c and iron insuring as much absorption of iron as possible. Serving vitamin c enriched foods like fruits and vegetables in conjunction with iron rich red meats, beans and green vegetables is the direct way for your child to absorb iron naturally.
My daughter actually did not present many of the symptoms of iron deficiency. Her pediatrician was diligent in maintaining records and tests. It was evident that my child was faring well as I naturally added the proper foods to her diet and an iron supplement as her doctor prescribed.
When to be concerned
Iron levels are persistently low for the child’s age.
Sometimes iron deficiency is something more serious. The first test for iron is usually around 9 to 12 month of age in children and again 1 to 2 years of age unless there is a low iron count or doctor recommendation.
When the symptoms of iron deficiency are evident and persist regardless of diet and supplementation, your doctor may prescribe other procedures.
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