Guide to iron

Guide to iron

Iron is a mineral essential for growth and for carrying oxygen in your baby’s bloodstream. As babies grow at a rapid rate, they need a lot of iron to ensure good health. If iron levels are too low, your baby can become tired, growth can be impaired and your baby’s ability to concentrate and learn can be reduced.

Your baby is born with its own iron stores accumulated when in utero. For the first six months of life, these stores, combined with breast milk or iron-fortified infant formula, meet baby’s iron requirements. After six months of age, body iron stores are starting to diminish. It is also around this time that iron needs increase. A large amount of iron is required for growth. Problems can arise if breastfeeding or formula is not continued, if solids are not introduced or are delayed, and if inappropriate weaning foods are chosen.

Is all iron the same?

  • There are two different forms of iron in food: haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in animal-based foods and non-haem iron is found in plant-based foods.
  • We absorb only a portion of the iron we eat. Haem iron is much better absorbed than non-haem iron. Generally 20 to 30% of haem iron is absorbed by the body.
  • Excellent sources of haem iron include livers (lamb, chicken), kidneys, mussels, venison, lean beef and lamb. Generally, the redder the meat the higher the iron content.
  • Good sources of haem iron are lean chicken, pork and fish (including tinned fish).
  • Milk, both cow and goat, is a poor source of iron. Cows’ milk contains only traces of iron and this iron is poorly absorbed – around 5%.
  • Breast milk is the exception. While the actual iron level in breast milk is quite low, the iron contained acts like haem iron, and is well absorbed at around 50%.
  • Infant formulas are fortified with iron at levels higher than those found in breast milk, so that the amount absorbed will be similar. Around 10% of iron is absorbed from Infant Formulas and Toddler Milks. Vitamin C helps iron absorption.
  • Non-haem iron is found in wholegrain cereals, iron-fortified infant cereals, some fruits and vegetables such as spinach and silverbeet, legumes and eggs.

Non-haem iron is not well absorbed. Only 1 to 5% of non-haem iron may be absorbed by the body. You can help the body absorb more iron from non-haem sources by eating Vitamin C-rich foods at the same meal. Meat also helps the body absorb more non-haem iron. Our best sources of Vitamin C are fruits and vegetables. Broccoli and cauliflower are rich in Vitamin C and can be included in an infant’s diet from six months of age. At around 8-9 months of age other Vitamin C-rich foods such as kiwifruit, feijoas, tamarillos, tomatoes, oranges, mandarins and tangelos can be added.

To ensure your baby is getting enough iron each day:

• Breast feed or use an infant formula (all formulas contain iron).

• Combine iron-fortified cereals with fruit rich in Vitamin C

• When age appropriate, offer cooked meat with vegetables. Aim for five meat meals a week with at least three of these including red meats.

• Do not give tea to your baby. Tea contains tannins that prevent iron from being absorbed.

• Avoid cow’s milk as a main milk drink until your baby is at least 12 months old, as it is a poor source of iron.

• Cow’s milk, introduced too early, can cause bleeding of the gut and increase iron losses.

Vegetarian infants

If you are bringing your baby up on a vegetarian diet, iron requirements can be met with a little careful planning. Vegetarian sources of iron include breast milk or infant formula (and iron-fortified Toddler Milk for those over 12 months) baby cereals with added iron, green leafy vegetables, egg yolk, legumes such as lentils, baked beans and kidney beans (Legumes can be introduced around eight to nine months of age.) Improve the iron absorption of these foods by combining them with foods rich in Vitamin C.

A toddler needs just as much iron every day as an adult male. Too little iron in a toddler’s diet can lead to tiredness and irritability. Toddlers with low iron levels can also have lowered resistance to infections and can find it difficult to concentrate and learn.

Meat for toddlers

The second molars do not come through until after two years of age so toddlers might find it a struggle to chew meat properly. To get your toddler started on meat, serve it moist and tender. The possibilities are endless!


• Try simmered meatballs, meat loaf, savoury minces, soft meat ‘fingers’ or meat ‘chips’.

• Try little pita bread pockets filled with chopped cold meats.

• Serve meat as a topping for mini pizza made with pita bread or ½ a hamburger bun.

• Offer chicken liver pâté or liver sausage as a spread for a sandwich, on a piece of toast or cracker.

• Though lower in iron, fish fingers, sausages or frankfurters (peel off skins if necessary) can also contribute to iron intake.

Click on link below to download file:

Iron brochure.pdf


About Eleanor Harris

Hi, there. It's my blog about nutritional solutions. I post the most helpful content in this topic ❤️ I got master degree 4 years ago at University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Now i work for Danone as Nutrition Executive

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